by WorldTribune Staff, November 26, 2018
Russian naval forces on Nov. 25 opened fire on and captured three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea.
The Ukranian navy reported that three of its sailors were wounded after two artillery boats were hit by the Russian strikes. Russia also detained 23 Ukrainian sailors, the navy said.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said its forces opened fire after the Ukrainian ships ignored demands to stop. The FSB said Russia impounded two armored artillery boats and a tugboat which had illegally crossed the border.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an emergency session of his war cabinet and has asked parliament to vote on whether to impose martial law in the Ukraine for 30 days.
“I want to emphasize separately that we have all irrefutable evidence that this aggression, this attack on the Ukrainian navy’s warships was not a mistake, not an accident, but a deliberate action,” Poroshenko said.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that the imposition of martial law could give Poroshenko’s government the power to restrict public demonstrations, regulate the media, and potentially postpone a presidential election slated to be held in late March.
Before submitting the martial law decree, Poroshenko demanded that Russia immediately release the ships and sailors, who he said had been “brutally detained in violation of international law.”
Russia gave no indication it would release the sailors. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the Ukrainian sailors would be held responsible under Russian law for violating the border.
The FSB said in a statement that the three Ukrainian ships seized in the Black Sea will be escorted to the port of Kerch.
Ukraine had earlier accused a Russian coast guard vessel of ramming one of its tugboats, damaging its engine, hull and side railing.
Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs posted footage on Twitter purportedly showing the incident, which reportedly took place as three Ukrainian navy boats headed for the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov.
Mariupol is close to the region of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists in a conflict that has caused at least 10,000 deaths since 2014.
Russia – which claims the waters off Crimea after annexing the peninsula in 2014 – accused Ukraine of illegally entering the area and deliberately provoking a conflict.
Moscow placed a huge cargo ship beneath the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait Bridge to block Ukrainian boats from access to the sea.
“Their goal is clear – to create a conflict situation in the region,” the FSB said in a statement.
The Ukrainian navy insisted Russia had been informed in advance about the planned journey, saying “Russian coastguard vessels… carried out openly aggressive actions against Ukrainian navy ships.”
In September, the Ukrainian navy accused Russian border guards of “acts of provocation” against ships taking the same route.
NATO has demanded Russia ensure “unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law.”