Russia blames Ukraine for provoking naval standoff near Crimea

Russia accused Ukraine on Monday of deliberately provoking a naval standoff near the peninsula of Crimea as a ploy to impose new sanctions on Moscow, according to a report.

Russian security forces said border patrol boats seized two small Ukrainian armored ships and a tug boat and wounded several sailors Sunday after they illegally entered territorial waters near the Kerch Strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Avoz.

“There is no doubt that it was done by blessing or, perhaps, even a direct order from the top,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Reuters reported. “While planning that provocation, Ukraine had undoubtedly hoped to get additional benefits from the situation, expecting the US and Europe to blindly take the provocateurs’ side.”

Russia has also summoned Ukraine’s top diplomat at Kiev’s embassy in Moscow.

Ukraine’s representative to the European Union, Mykola Tochytskyi, pleaded with the association to penalize Russia.

“We urge EU and member states resolutely react to Russia’s blatant use of military force in Azov Sea. What else shall Russia do to provoke harsh and decisive response from intern community? We need new sanctions against Russia. We must stop Kremlin’s war against Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who chaired an emergency meeting of his cabinet, demanded that Russia release the ships and sailors, and urged his parliament to institute martial law in retaliation for Russia’s aggressive moves.

“We consider it as an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are no ‘red lines’ for the Russian Federation.”

The United Nations Security Council was expected to hold an emergency session Monday.

NATO and the EU have called for restraint between the two nations, whose relations have been rapidly eroding since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukraine said its vessels were steaming to the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait in accordance with maritime rules.

A bilateral treaty gives Russia and Ukraine the right to use the strait.

But Russia, which has been tightening its control of the narrow passage since it annexed Crimea, said Ukraine had failed to get permission to allow the flotilla to pass through the strait and had ignored warnings to halt.

Russia then placed a cargo ship under a bridge it built over the strait.

Ukraine said a Russian ship rammed the tug boat in an effort to stop it.

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