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Ukraine Declares Martial Law Along Borders With Russia, Black Sea


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a parliament session in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 26, 2018.

Russia said Tuesday that Ukraine's decision to impose martial law after Russian forces seized three Ukrainian ships and their crew in the Black Sea could lead to a flare up in hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's parliament voted Monday to approve martial law in 10 of the country's 27 regions beginning Wednesday.

President Petro Poroshenko said martial law will help "strengthen Ukraine's defense capabilities amid increasing aggression and according to international law a cold act of aggression by the Russian Federation." He added that Ukraine intends "to keep adhering to all international obligations."

The measure calls for 30 days of martial law - an apparent concession to opponents - which would allow for elections to be called as scheduled in December. Ukraine is due to hold a presidential poll March 31, 2019.

US: Russian action 'outrageous violation'

Russia fired on two Ukrainian naval ships and rammed a third vessel Sunday in the Black Sea, seizing the ships and accusing them of illegally entering its territorial waters.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned Russia for its "outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory."

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting about the escalating tensions between the Ukraine and Russia, at United Nations headquarters in New York, Nov. 26, 2018.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting about the escalating tensions between the Ukraine and Russia, at United Nations headquarters in New York, Nov. 26, 2018.

"This is no way for a law-abiding civilized nation to act," Haley said at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. "Impeding Ukraine's lawful transit through the Kerch Strait is a violation under international law. It is an arrogant act that the international community must condemn and will never accept."

Haley told the council that she had spoken with both U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before addressing the council and her statement reflects concerns at the highest level of the U.S. government.

Russia fired on two Ukrainian naval ships and rammed a third vessel Sunday in the Black Sea, seizing the ships and accusing them of illegally entering its territorial waters.

Video purportedly showing a Russian vessel ramming a Ukrainian tug boat Sunday:

Ukraine's parliament is considering President Petro Poroshenko's call to impose martial law in the country, in the wake of the incident. If imposed, it would be the first time since the crisis between Moscow and Kyiv began in 2014 that such measures have been taken.

Poroshenko reduced an earlier version of a bill to propose 30 days of martial law — an apparent concession to opponents — which would allow for elections to be called as scheduled in December.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko chairs a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 26, 2018.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko chairs a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 26, 2018.

Poroshenko said Monday he wants to declare martial law "to strengthen Ukraine's defense capabilities amid increasing aggression and according to international law a cold act of aggression by the Russian Federation." He added that Ukraine intends "to keep adhering to all international obligations."

Poroshenko is demanding Russia immediately release the Ukrainian sailors and ships.

Trading accusations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine of violating international norms with "dangerous methods that created threats and risks for the normal movement of ships in the area."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference after a meeting with the ambassadors at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 26, 2018.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference after a meeting with the ambassadors at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 26, 2018.

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg also called on Russia to release the Ukrainian navy ships, saying "there is no justification" for Moscow's actions, while European Union chief Donald Tusk condemned Russia's use of force and reiterated the EU would stand in support of Ukraine.

At the U.N. Security Council, most members condemned the escalation, urged restraint, and called for the unconditional and immediate release of the Ukrainian sailors and the return of their ships.

Russia's deputy envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy blamed Kyiv and its western supporters for the escalation.

"This provocation was pre-planned, that's obvious, and it was with the full connivance of Western states that de facto have just given carte blanche to any actions taken by their subordinates," he said.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Nov. 26, 2018.
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Nov. 26, 2018.

Ukraine's U.N. ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, said his government would like to see a tightening of economic sanctions on Moscow.

"The sanctions is the only real tool that can make Russia at least start thinking of their behavior," Yelchenko said after the meeting. "Sanctions, they do bite."

Ukrainian officials say at least six sailors were wounded in the incident. They deny any wrongdoing on Ukraine's part.

"We think our sailors committed no crime whatsoever," Ambassador Yelchenko said, noting that Crimea is not recognized as Russian territory by anyone except Russia. "What are they claiming, that Ukrainian sailors committed a crime by crossing the Russian border? Where is this border? It does not exist."

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko speaks during a U.N. Security Council at United Nations headquarters, Nov. 26, 2018.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko speaks during a U.N. Security Council at United Nations headquarters, Nov. 26, 2018.

Russia's deputy U.N. envoy appeared to signal the Ukrainian sailors would not be released quickly and could face a trial.

"The three sailors, they were acting in provocation and they were conducting a crime according to the laws of the Russian Federation," Polyanskiy told reporters. "Each and every sovereign country has [a] right to prosecute people who conduct crimes and unlawful acts on their territory, that's our approach."

Russia, Ukraine claims

Sunday's incident began when a Ukrainian tugboat set out to escort two navy ships from Odessa, on the Black Sea, through the Kerch Strait to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov.

Map locating the Kerch Strait bridge that links Crimea to Russia.
Map locating the Kerch Strait bridge that links Crimea to Russia.

The Kerch Strait is the only passage between the two seas.

Ukraine said Russia used a tanker to block access to the Kerch Strait, which under a treaty is shared territory.

Russia said the Ukrainian ships were violating its waters and accuses the Ukrainians of failing to inform it that three of its ships were planning to sail through Kerch, a charge Ukraine denies.

The Trump administration has previously warned Russia against trying to strangle the Ukrainian economy by harassing international shipping through the Kerch Strait.

WATCH: Ukraine-Russia relations

Ukraine Imposes Martial Law for 30 Days
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​Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014, claiming its ethnic Russian majority was under threat from the Ukrainian government.

Fighting between pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian troops has eased in recent months, but there are still occasional deadly flare-ups.

Russia has consistently denied sending weapons and fighters to help the separatists, despite strong evidence to the contrary.

VOA's Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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