Ukraine signs martial law, troops ready for full combat

A Ukrainian soldier aboard a military boat in the Sea of Azov on Tuesday. Russia had seized three Ukrainian navy vessels.
A Ukrainian soldier aboard a military boat in the Sea of Azov on Tuesday. Russia had seized three Ukrainian navy vessels.PHOTO:AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Russian guards were just doing their duty in seizing ships: Putin

KIEV/MOSCOW • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko yesterday signed legislation introducing martial law after Russia's seizure of three of Kiev's navy vessels sparked the worst crisis in years between the ex-Soviet neighbours.

"President Poroshenko has signed the law," spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko wrote on Facebook.

Ukraine's Parliament on Monday voted in favour of the President's request for the introduction of martial law in border areas for 30 days.

Mr Poroshenko called for the move after Russian forces fired on, boarded and captured three of Kiev's ships on Sunday off the coast of Crimea.

He warned on Tuesday that Ukraine risked "full-scale war" with Russia and the country's armed forces have been put in a state of full combat readiness.

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said Russia's border guards were "fulfilling their military duty" when they seized the ships. Moscow also captured 24 Ukrainian sailors.

"They were fulfilling their military duty. They were fulfilling their lawful functions in protecting Russia's borders," Mr Putin told an investment forum in Moscow.

 
 
 

Mr Putin called the incident a Kiev-orchestrated "provocation", and said the Ukrainian vessels did not respond to warnings from Russian border guards.

"Military vessels intruded into Russian territorial waters and did not answer (the border guards)... What were they supposed to do?", he said.

"They would do the same in your country, this is absolutely obvious," he added, responding to a question from a foreign investor.

The Ukrainian ships were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov.

"These territorial waters were always ours, even before Crimea joined Russia," Mr Putin said, referring to Moscow's 2014 annexation of the peninsula.

Western governments have rallied behind Kiev in the dispute, accusing Russia of illegally blocking access to the Sea of Azov and of taking military action without justification.

United States President Donald Trump has said he may cancel a long-awaited summit with Mr Putin at the G-20 this week as a result of the confrontation.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman told Parliament yesterday that "we must always be ready to counter the aggression of our enemy, which not long ago was our neighbour".

Martial law is being adopted in 10 regions that adjoin either Russia's borders or areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, as well as along the coast of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

The prospect of martial law has already led to the relocation of a football match scheduled today between Arsenal and Ukrainian side FC Vorskla to Kiev from the city of Poltava, even though Poltava is not in one of the affected regions.

The Ukrainian authorities have said that martial law - which allows the mobilisation of citizens, control of media and restricts public demonstrations - is essentially a preventive measure.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2018, with the headline 'Ukraine signs martial law, troops ready for full combat'. Print Edition | Subscribe