Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko demanded Monday that Russia immediately releases Ukrainian sailors and vessels seized in a standoff around Crimea that sharply escalated tensions between the two countries and drew international concern.
The ships were sailing off the coast of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, when they were seized.
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.
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.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was proposing that parliament back a 30-day martial law – half the length of that recommended by Ukraine’s security and defence council a day earlier.
In a televised address, Mr Poroshenko said he did not want martial law to affect presidential elections set for 31 March 2019. If backed by MPs, martial law would enter into force at 09:00 local time (07:00 GMT) on 28 November.
The clash on Sunday between Russian and Ukrainian vessels marks a major escalation of tension between the two countries.
This is the first time the two militaries have come into open conflict in recent years, although Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists and Russia volunteers in the east of the country.
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.”
Ukrainian military chief Viktor Muzhenko said the Russian coastguard had “fired to kill” during the confrontation.
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.
A number of Western countries condemned Russia’s actions, and the UN Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting.