March 26, 2019

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Ukraine Declares Martial Law Over Naval Attack by Russia

Ukraine Declares Martial Law Over Naval Attack by Russia
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Ukraine’s Parliament voted Monday to declare martial law in areas bordering Russia, responding to an attack a day earlier by Russian forces who fired on and impounded three Ukrainian naval vessels, leaving several sailors wounded.

The action by Parliament, which called it a “partial mobilization,” takes effect Wednesday morning, will last for 30 days and represents a further escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine had requested the vote, which happened as criticism of Russia was rising at the United Nations Security Council and NATO over the Sunday attack.

Russia’s attempt to use the Security Council session to blame Ukraine for the violence backfired, as ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France and others accused Russia of recklessness and violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador from the United States, called the episode an “arrogant act” by Russia that the Trump administration and the international community would not accept.

“As President Trump said many times, the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia, but outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible,” she said.

And Britain’s ambassador, Jonathan Allen, warned that the confrontation could presage further efforts by Russia to gain full control of the waters it currently shares with Ukraine.

The Ukrainians also received a strong statement of solidarity from NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, who said at a news conference in Brussels that all of the organization’s members “expressed full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” He called on Russia to ensure “freedom of navigation” for Ukraine and demanded that Russia “release immediately the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized.”

The confrontation on Sunday, in the vicinity of the Kerch Strait, a narrow passage between the Black and Azov Seas, was a serious escalation in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and a rare example of direct military engagement between the two countries. Though they have been locked in a vicious war for almost five years, much of the fighting has been between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine.

“This incident is a reminder that there is a war going on in Ukraine,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Though details of the Sunday confrontation are still murky, Russia has acknowledged firing on three Ukrainian ships as they tried to pass through the strait. Russia then seized the ships as well as their crews. At least six sailors were wounded, three seriously, the Ukrainians said, though Russia claims their injuries are not life-threatening.

Russia has said it was forced to open fire after the Ukrainian ships entered what the Kremlin called Russian territorial waters, and failed to heed warnings to stop.

At the United Nations on Monday, the Russian delegation tried to convene an emergency session of the Security Council that would have condemned Ukrainian aggression, but was blocked by other members of the council.

Russia’s representative, Dmitry Polyansky, lashed out at Ukraine, accusing its leaders of fostering hatred of Russia through brainwashing, and suggested that confrontation with Russia was advantageous for Mr. Poroshenko, who is behind in the polls ahead of elections in March.

In remarks ahead of the session, Ukraine’s ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, warned that the clash at sea could make way for further incursions into Ukrainian territory by Russian forces. Ukraine has two major ports on the Azov Sea, Mariupol and Berdyansk, that depend on the free movement of ships through the Kerch Strait.

The violence occurred close to the 79th anniversary of the start of the Soviet Union’s war with Finland in 1939, a fact that Mr. Yelchenko said was no coincidence.

“What is happening today in the Azov Sea is reminiscent of the events of the 1930s,” he said.



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