Months of rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov escalated on Sunday when Russian forces first fired upon and subsequently seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels as they were trying to enter the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait.
Latest reports say six Ukrainian sailors were injured in the standoff, two seriously. Ukraine says it has lost contact with some 23 sailors who were aboard gunboats, Berdiansk (P175) and Nikopol (P176), and tug boat Yany Kapu, when they were seized.
Video footage of the standoff has also emerged and shows a Russian Coast Guard ship ramming one of the Ukrainian vessels.
— Capt(N) (@Capt_Navy) November 25, 2018
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) November 25, 2018
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According to Russian news outlet Sputnik, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Ukrainian vessels were detained in Russian “territorial waters in the Black Sea” after they violated the “Russian state border.”
The Kerch Strait was closed for shipping on Sunday after Russia placed a tanker under the Crimean Bridge which connects Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
Local Crimean news site Kerch Info reports a large ship is now physically blocking the Kerch Strait, the only passage in and out of the Sea of Azov, as three Russian naval vessels and two military helicopters circle the Russian-built bridge there. https://t.co/eWvicBD0qv pic.twitter.com/uplYyFmk1B
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) November 25, 2018
A TASS report said the Kerch Strait was open for commercial shipping on Monday.
Ukraine’s war cabinet convened late Sunday to introduce martial law which was to take effect on Monday at 16.00 (GMT+2). The introduction of martial law does not imply an announcement of war Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said, adding that the measure was introduced exclusively for the defense of Ukraine.
Poroshenko also demanded Russia to release Ukrainian servicemen who were detained in violation of international law.
We appeal to the partner countries under the Budapest Memorandum, to the EU countries, to participants of the Normandy format in order to coordinate effective measures to protect Ukraine. We appeal to the whole pro-Ukrainian coalition: we must stand united! pic.twitter.com/NCnpUmSbV4
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) November 25, 2018
NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said NATO was closely monitoring developments in the Sea of Azov and calling for constraint and de-escalation.
#NATO is closely monitoring developments in the #AzovSea & #KerchStrait, & we are in contact with the #Ukrainian authorities. We call for restraint & de-escalation. Read my full statement: pic.twitter.com/DDtfvNLa4K
— Oana Lungescu (@NATOpress) November 25, 2018
The escalation of conflict between Ukraine and Russia over the Sea of Azov follows several months of tensions after Ukraine accused Russia of stopping and delaying passage of commercial vessels transiting to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea.
The Sea of Azov is shared by Ukraine and Russia under a treaty signed in 2003 which allows civil and military ships of both countries to freely transit.