The Kremlin warns Tuesday that Ukraine’s declaration of martial law over Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships might trigger a flare-up in hostilities in eastern Ukraine, while Kiev blamed Russia for parading captured Ukrainian seamen on television.
The Ukrainian parliament on Monday adopted a motion by the president to impose martial law for 30 days after Sunday’s clash between the two rivals in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. That is something Ukraine avoided doing even when Russia annexed its nearby Crimean peninsula in 2014 or sent in clandestine troops and weapons to insurgents in war-torn eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday, near Crimea, Russian border guards rammed into and opened fire on three Ukrainian navy vessels traveling from the Black Sea toward a Ukrainian port. The Russians seized the ships and their crews. A court Tuesday in the Crimean capital of Simferopol ordered one of the Ukrainian seamen to be kept behind bars until Jan. 26.
The Kremlin reacts strongly to Ukraine’s declaration of martial law, with Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, telling reporters Tuesday that it might trigger a flare-up in hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian troops have been fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014, a conflict that has left over 10,000 dead, but fighting has eased since a truce in 2015.
The martial law takes effect Wednesday in several parts of Ukraine, including areas bordering territory now held by the separatists.
The Russian intelligence agency FSB claims the ships had Ukrainian SBU intelligence agents onboard with a mission to mount what they called “provocation” in the Kerch Strait.
The SBU on Tuesday confirms the presence of its officers on the ships, but denies any nefarious intentions, saying they were simply fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy.
The SBU also demands that Russia stop using “psychological and physical pressure” on the Ukrainians — an apparent reference to the interviews of the crew members that Russia released late Monday. The video broadcast by state television showed three separate interviews with Ukrainian seamen, all of whom agreed with Russian claims that they violated its border.