Ukraine declares martial law as Russia tensions escalate

KIEV: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared martial law on Monday after Russian forces seized several Ukrainian naval vessels near the disputed Crimea region. The decree, contingent on parliamentary approval, was to be in effect for 60 days, according to a statement posted on the president’s website.
Ukraine has also put its military on combat readiness in response to Russia opening fire and then seizing three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews in waters off the disputed Crimea region at the weekend.
Crimea, a peninsula connected to mainland Ukraine, has been a focal point of contention between Russia and neighbouring Ukraine since Russia occupied and annexed the region from Ukraine four years ago.
Ukrainian military personnel were “brutally detained in violation of international law,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told a meeting of the national security council on Monday.
Russian authorities must “immediately transfer them to the Ukrainian side along with the ships and ensure de-escalation of the situation,” Poroshenko said in comments published on his website.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry put the military on combat alert upon a recommendation by the security council. Ukraine’s parliament prepared to convene for an emergency assembly to address the situation.
Russia’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, justified Russia’s actions as a reaction to a “provocation” near its border whereby the Ukrainian navy had violated Russia’s sovereignty.
Ukraine’s “Western sponsors” should intervene to diffuse the situation, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in comments carried by state media. In a separate statement he warned of the potential for crossing a “point of no return” between Russia and the West.
Sunday’s incident occurred in the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway between Crimea and mainland Russia that separates the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov.
Russia confirmed that several Ukrainians were injured, accusing the Ukrainian side of performing dangerous manoeuvres. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said an emergency session of the Security Council would be held to discuss the flare-up.
Nato is also set to hold emergency talks, with Nato ambassadors meeting their Ukrainian counterpart on Monday. The move follows a telephone conversation between Poroshenko and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg “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 alliance said.
Ukrainian opposition politicians, including parliament vice speaker Oksana Syroyid, dismissed the Kerch Strait incident as a ploy by Poroshenko to delay next year’s presidential election, where he does not appear to be a front-runner. — dpa