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Ukraine mulling martial law amid tensions with Russia

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed the introduction of martial law in response to what he describes as Russia’s “growing aggression,” following the breach of Russian territory by three Ukrainian ships.

Poroshenko proposed the introduction of the law during an emergency meeting with ministers and army officials that he chaired in the capital, Kiev, on Sunday.

He claimed the proposal was made in “reaction to the acts of growing aggression as well as to the violation of international laws by the Russian Federation.”

It was not clear what the introduction of martial law would entail, including inside Ukraine.

Poroshenko seemed to emphasize that he did not want war with Russia.

“Martial law doesn’t mean declaration of war. Ukraine doesn’t plan to start war against anyone, we are just reacting in favor of defending our land and territory, as well as the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” he said.

“This doesn’t prevent us from using diplomatic and political means to protect Ukrainian territory,” he also said.

Lawmakers are due to vote on declaring martial law later on Monday.

Tensions, already high between Kiev and Moscow since some four year ago, entered a new phase after three Ukrainian warships illegally entered Russia’s territorial waters on Sunday, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Border Service in Crimea.

FSB said the three Ukrainian vessels had been impounded by Russian forces and that “weapons were used to force them to stop.”

Russian fighter jets fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, in the Black Sea, on November 25, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

The incident occurred in the Kerch Strait, a key waterway that connects the Azov Sea with the Black Sea and runs between the Crimean Peninsula and Russia.

Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014 and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum a day earlier, in which 96.8 percent of participants voted in favor of independence.

At about the same time, an armed conflict broke out in the eastern regions of Ukraine when Kiev launched military operations to quell pro-Russia protests there. That conflict continues to this day, and according to the United Nations (UN) figures, it has so far left over 10,000 people dead and more than a million others displaced since its onset.

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of involvement in the conflict, a charge Russia has strongly denied. Washington and its Western allies have so far imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia both over the Crimean unification and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The FSB said the three Ukrainian ships did not respond to Russian maritime warnings.

“They (the three ships) did not respond to legitimate demands by the ships and boats of Russia’s FSB Border Guard Service escorting them to stop immediately and performed dangerous maneuvers,” the FSB said.

Russia impounds transgressing Ukraine ships

Russia says it has been forced to open fire at and impound three Ukrainian naval vessels after they illegally crossed its sea border, entering the Russian waters in the Black Sea off the Crimean Peninsula.

The Ukrainian navy, on the other hand, said Russian border patrol vessels “carried out openly aggressive action” against the Ukrainian ships as they were planning to enter the Kerch Strait to access the city of Mariupol.

Russia, which had closed off the strait after the incident, said it had reopened the waterway on Monday.

In the Sunday meeting, Poroshenko described the Russian actions as “an act of aggression aimed at deliberately escalating the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.”

He also called for international condemnation of Moscow and the imposition of new sanctions against it.

This is while some observers have already pointed out that Poroshenko may be deliberately stirring tensions with Russia to provoke anti-Russia sentiments ahead of elections in Ukraine in March.

Russia has requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the issue. The meeting has been called for Monday morning New York time, according to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

NATO joins the fray

Citing a spokesperson for NATO, CNN reported on Monday that the Western military alliance “fully supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity.”

Spokesperson Oana Lungescu told the news website that NATO was calling on Russia “to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.”

Ukraine is not a NATO member.

A screen shows a Russian border guard vessel trying to stop a Ukrainian Navy tug boat from entering Russian territorial waters on November 25, 2018. (Photo via Reuters)

Kiev and its Western allies have been accusing Russia of interfering with international shipping in and out of the Kerch Strait for some months now.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has, however, said that the West is seeking to use the situation around the Sea of Azov as another pretext to impose sanctions on Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov also told state news agency RIA on Friday that the confrontation was a provocation orchestrated by Kiev and the West to disrupt a forthcoming meeting between Putin and President Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires later this week.

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