Russia's seizure of Ukrainian ships lawful: Kremlin
Iran Press TV
Mon Nov 26, 2018 05:05PM
The Kremlin has defended Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian navy ships off the coast of Crimea, saying the move was lawful and in strict accordance with international and domestic regulations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday described the actions of the Ukrainian navy as "an invasion of Russian territorial waters," and accused the Ukrainian vessels of illegally crossing Russia's sea border and ignoring warnings made by Russian border guards.
"The Russian side acted in strict accordance with the law, both domestic and international. This is a case of trespassing into territorial waters of the Russian Federation by foreign military vessels," Peskov said.
"These foreign military vessels entered Russian territorial waters not answering any queries from our coast guard, ignoring proposals to use piloting services, and so on and so forth," he added.
Peskov also said a criminal case has been opened over the violation of Russia's border, without providing further details.
Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the incident in the Kerch Strait near Crimea had been organized at the highest political level in Ukraine.
Blaming Kiev for the incident, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of a "planned" provocation and of using "dangerous methods" that would put ships in the area at risk.
The ministry statement said the Ukrainian navy had "violated the rules of passage through Russian territorial waters," adding that Kiev had deliberately provoked the clash in order to create a pretext for new sanctions to be imposed on Moscow.
"Russia has repeatedly warned the Kiev regime and its Western supporters that fanning up the hysteria over the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait was dangerous. It's obvious that there was a provocation, carefully planned in terms of location and form, which is aimed at flaring up yet another point of conflict in the region and creating a new pretext to impose more sanctions against Russia," the statement noted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also said in the statement that such incidents may have "serious consequences," and it would "strongly counter" any attempts to undermine the country's sovereignty and security.
Russia's RIA news agency reported that a Ukrainian diplomat had been seen entering the Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday, hours after Moscow promised to summon a Ukrainian representative to discuss an incident in the Kerch Strait.
Two Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat on Sunday tried to pass through the Kerch Strait in the Azov Sea apparently without prior warning, but were ordered to stop by Russian border guards. A confrontation took place after the Ukrainian navy ships ignored the calls while maneuvering dangerously, ending with the three ships being seized by the Russian side and the injury of six Ukrainian seamen.
Kiev has accused Moscow of blocking access for Ukrainian ships though the strait, the only way in and out of the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.
The Sea of Azov is a strategic ocean route linked to the Black Sea by the narrow Strait of Kerch where Russia has built a bridge to link the Crimean Peninsula with the mainland.
Tensions escalated earlier this year after Ukraine detained two Russian ships for port calls on Crimea, which rejoined Russia in a 2014 referendum.
Moscow described the move as "maritime terrorism" and increased patrols off its Azov coast to guarantee free navigation by Russian ships.
Ukraine reserves right for defense against Russia: FM
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said Kiev reserved the right to defend itself against Russia, warning that it was likely "Russia plans further acts of aggression at seas or on the ground."
"But (Ukraine) certainly reserves the right for self-defense as it is prescribed by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. It is very important that the whole civilized world goes beyond formal and informal statements, no matter how strong or very strong they are, and takes certain measures against Russia," Klimkin noted.
Following the Kerch Strait incident, a group of Ukrainian radicals and extremists gathered in front of Russia's diplomatic facilities, throwing flares and eggs at the Russian embassy in the Ukrainian capital.
Moscow announced on Monday that it has summoned an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the incident.
NATO calls emergency meeting with Ukraine
NATO said it would hold an emergency meeting later in the day with Ukrainian officials at the US-led alliance's headquarters in Brussels over the naval standoff off the coast of Crimea.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was reported to have held phone talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other officials from the two sides over the issue.
"The Secretary General expressed NATO's full support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, including its full navigational rights in its territorial waters under international law," NATO said of Stoltenberg's call.
EU declares stance on Azov Sea clash
The European Union warned on Sunday that tensions in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait had "increased dangerously," calling on Russia to restore freedom of passage.
EU President Donald Tusk criticized "Russian use of force" in clashes with Ukraine ships off the coast of Crimea and pledged European support for Kiev in the standoff.
"I condemn Russian use of force in Azov Sea. Russian authorities must return Ukrainian sailors, vessels & refrain from further provocations," Tusk said in a tweet, adding that "Europe will stay united in support of Ukraine."
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said senior officials from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France were holding a meeting in Berlin on Monday, seeking to come up with a common solution to renewed tensions between Moscow and Kiev.
"Today, by chance - it was planned long in advance - political directors are meeting here in Berlin in the Normandy format to discuss the situation in Ukraine and progress in the Minsk process," the ministry spokesman said, referring to the format under which the four countries meet.
"Of course, this forum will be used to discuss the weekend's events and to find a collective solution," he added.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter on Monday that Russian blockade of the Sea of Azov was unacceptable and developments in Ukraine were alarming.
Maas called on both sides of the Kerch incident to de-escalate the conflict.
France on Monday also urged Moscow to release the three Ukrainian naval ships seized near Crimea over the weekend.
"Nothing appears to have justified the use of force by Russia," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We urge Russia to release the Ukrainian sailors and hand back the seized naval vessels as soon as possible."
Britain pointed the finger of blame at Russia for "destabilizing behavior" in the region after the weekend incident in the Sea of Azov, calling for restraint from both sides involved in the conflict.
"The UK position is clear; ships must be allowed free passage to Ukrainian ports in the sea of Azov. We urge all parties to act with restraint. Russia must not be allowed to use force to exert greater pressure on Ukraine," Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also accused Moscow in a tweet of undermining Ukrainian sovereignty.
Ukraine president decrees martial law, calls for release of navy officers
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on Monday to introduce martial law for 60 days, following a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries.
The decree needs parliamentary approval to come into force throughout the country as of Wednesday, November 28.
Ukraine's parliament is expected to debate the decree later on Monday.
The Ukrainian president also demanded the release of the seized vessels and their crew following the Sunday incident, as Russia is resisting international calls to release the Ukrainian naval ships.
"I appeal to the leadership of the Russian Federation with a demand to immediately release the Ukrainian servicemen who were brutally detained in violation of international law, and whose fate is unknown. We demand to immediately hand them over to the Ukrainian side together with the ships and to de-escalate the situation in the Azov Sea immediately as a first step and to de-escalate tensions in other areas. I would like to ask for a quick reaction," Poroshenko said.
Additionally, Ukraine has called on its Western allies to step up existing sanctions implemented against Russia over Crimea and its role in the ongoing military conflict in eastern Ukraine between government troops and pro-Russia forces.
Ties between Russia and the rest of Europe have deteriorated since February 2014, when Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum.
In siding with Ukraine, the European Union has leveled several rounds of sanctions against the Russian government. The NATO military alliance has also joined the pressure campaign, amassing troops and equipment on Russia's borders.
The West brands the reunification as annexation of the territory by Russia but Moscow denies any involvement in the conflict.
Armed confrontation between the pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian military has killed more than 10,000 people, according to the United Nations.
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