Russia attacks Ukrainian navy in Black Sea – Kiev to vote on martial law

Three Ukrainian naval ships were attacked by Russia near Russian-annexed Crimea on Sunday, escalating tensions between the two countries. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for parliament to enact martial law ahead of March elections. 

Mykhailo Markiv/ Presidential Press Service/AP
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. Russia's coast guard opened fire on and seized three of Ukraine's vessels Sunday, wounding two crew members, after a tense standoff in the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine's president demanded Monday that Russia immediately release Ukrainian sailors and vessels seized in a standoff around Crimea that sharply escalated tensions between the two countries and drew international concern.

The two neighbors have been locked in a tense tug-of-war since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, but the incident late Sunday, in which Russian coast guard ships fired on Ukrainian navy vessels near the Kerch Strait, directly pitted the two militaries against each other, placing them on the verge of an open conflict.

The Ukrainian navy said six of its seamen were wounded when Russian coast guards opened fire on three Ukrainian ships near the Kerch Strait and then seized them. Russia said that three Ukrainian sailors were lightly injured and given medical assistance.

Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, chaired an emergency meeting of his Cabinet early Monday and asked parliament to introduce martial law for two months in response to what he described as Russian aggression.

"We consider it as an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat," the president said. "Unfortunately, there are no 'red lines' for the Russian Federation."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters later Monday that Kiev believes that what happened near the Kerch Strait was no accident but "deliberately planned hostilities."

If adopted by lawmakers, the emergency measures proposed by Mr. Poroshenko will include a partial mobilization and strengthening of the country's air defense. They also include a plethora of vaguely worded steps such as the "strengthening" of anti-terrorism measures and "information security."

The fate of the Ukrainian seamen was not immediately clear. Mr. Klimkin insisted that they should be treated as prisoners of war while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say what legal status they have.

An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council was also called for Monday. The European Union and NATO called for restraint from both sides.

Poroshenko had a phone call Monday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the situation. NATO later said that at Poroshenko's request, its ambassadors and Ukraine's envoy will hold emergency talks in Brussels later Monday.

NATO said Mr. Stoltenberg expressed the US-led military alliance's "full support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, including its full navigational rights in its territorial waters under international law."

Poroshenko said at a meeting of Ukraine's national security council Monday that "we demand that [the ships and crews] are urgently turned over to the Ukrainian side" and called for a "de-escalation" of the crisis around Crimea.

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over the incident that further escalated tensions that have soared since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine with clandestine dispatches of troops and weapons.

Ukraine said its vessels were heading to the Sea of Azov in line with international maritime rules, while Russia charged that they had failed to obtain permission to pass through the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from the Russian mainland.

The narrow strait is the only passage between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. It's spanned by a 11.8-mile bridge that Russia completed this year. While a 2003 treaty designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters, Russia has sought to assert greater control over the passage since the annexation of Crimea.

"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. "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."

He urged the West to "calm down those in Ukraine who are trying to unleash a military hysteria to get political gains in connection with the planned elections" – a reference to Ukraine's presidential vote in March.

A motion to introduce martial law requires a simple majority of votes in the 450-seat parliament, which Poroshenko's party controls. If martial law is introduced as proposed for 60 days, it will derail the presidential election campaign, which was expected to start on Dec. 30 with the vote in March.

Some lawmakers lashed out at Poroshenko's move as an attempt to influence the vote. Polls show Poroshenko trailing far behind arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

"Martial law in Ukraine would present a wonderful chance to manipulate the presidential elections," said Oksana Syroid, a deputy speaker of parliament who is a member of the Samopomich faction.

She noted that martial law was not introduced in 2014 or 2015 despite large-scale fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in the east.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Mr. Peskov, said that Poroshenko's initiative to introduce martial law "clearly smacks of electoral intrigues."

"We believe that it's wrong and dangerous to solve electoral tasks by waving a flag of war," he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters from far-right party National Corps waved flares in the snowy streets outside the Ukrainian parliament Monday. They brandished yellow-and-blue flags with the Ukrainian national symbol, the trident, and a huge white banner reading 'Don't back down!' "

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Additional reporting by Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Russia attacks Ukrainian navy in Black Sea – Kiev to vote on martial law
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today