Russia accuses Ukraine of naval ‘provocation’ in Kerch strait

 Russia accuses Ukraine of naval ‘provocation’ in Kerch strait

Russia’s foreign ministry has accused Ukraine of coordinating with the US and the EU in a “planned provocation” aimed at securing further sanctions against Moscow, as tensions mount after a dangerous clash between the two countries.

As the UN security council prepared to meet later on Monday, Nato joined western calls for restraint after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval ships in the Kerch strait separating Crimea from the Russian mainland, wounding several seamen.

Kiev said the two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tugboat, heading to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, were observing international maritime rules. Moscow said it had not been notified in advance of the flotilla’s passage and the boats ignored warnings to stop.

In a statement accusing Ukraine of deliberately provoking the incident to provide a pretext for further anti-Russian sanctions, the foreign ministry in Moscow said Russia would respond harshly to any attempts to undermine its sovereignty and security.

“The Russian side acted strictly within both domestic and international law,” said the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, during a daily press briefing, adding that Moscow had opened a criminal case “in connection to the violation of Russia’s borders”, but giving no details on the fate of the Ukrainian sailors held by Moscow.Nato said its ambassadors and Ukraine’s envoy would hold emergency talks in Brussels on Monday at the request of the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, after he had spoken to the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg had expressed Nato’s “full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including its full navigational rights in its territorial waters under international law”, the military alliance said.

It called for “restraint and de-escalation” and demanded Russia “ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea in accordance with international law”. Kiev has accused Russia of military aggression over the incident and asked for the international community to punish Moscow.

Senior officials from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France are meeting in Berlin on Monday for previously scheduled talks on the broader situation in Ukraine and will seek a “collective solution” to the latest clash.

Russia-Ukraine relations have been severely strained since Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its support for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine. In May, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, opened a $3.69bn (£2.9bn) bridge over the Kerch strait that links the Russian mainland and the peninsula.

On Monday afternoon, Ukrainian MPs are to vote on a proposal by Poroshenko to impose martial law, four months before presidential elections that he is expected to lose. If the vote passes, the elections could be postponed, prompting some observers to ask whether Poroshenko was trying to exploit the incident.

Ayomide Oyewole

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