Ukraine’s President has demanded the release of Ukrainian sailors detained after Russian ships fired on Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea on Sunday.
“I appeal to the leadership of the Russian Federation with a demand to immediately release the Ukrainian servicemen who were brutally detained in violation of international law and whose fate is unknown,” he said during a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council.
“We demand to immediately transfer them to the Ukrainian side along with the ships and ensure de-escalation of the situation in the Sea of Azov.”
Poroshenko made the statement after proposing the night before that Parliament declares martial law.
Martial law is typically instated during a temporary crisis, and can impose military control on state institutions and restrict civil liberties.
Poroshenko summoned his war cabinet in the aftermath of Sunday’s attack, which Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said was sparked by Ukraine and that their “irrefutable” evidence of the fact “will soon be made public”.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Europe would “stay united in support of Ukraine,” echoing the Ukrainian president’s demands to release the detained sailors and return the vessels.
The rise in tensions spurred the European Union to intervene, who called on Kyiv and Moscow to “act with utmost restraint to de-escalate” tensions in the Black Sea.
Speaking via their foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijanic, they also demanded that Russia end their blockade and “restore freedom of passage” through the Kerch Strait so Ukrainian vessels can transit to ports in the Sea of Azov.
The international incident comes hours after Ukraine and Russia accused one another of “provocation” when a Ukrainian boat was “rammed” in a standoff with Russian border ships off the coast of Crimea. Moscow annexed the peninsula from Kyiv in 2014.
Three vessels, including two small warships and a tug boat, were sailing from Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov when they were confronted by Russian ships in an “openly aggressive” manner, the Ukrainian Navy said in a statement.
The crafts were approaching the Kerch Strait between Crimea and Russia when the tug boat was struck, damaging its engine, guard rail and outer shell.
Footage thought to have been taken during the skirmish has been shared on social media.
“The Russian Federation has once again demonstrated its aggressive nature and complete neglect of the norms of international law,” the Navy said, referring to a treaty from 2003 which guarantees free passage through the Kerch Strait for Ukrainian and Russian vessels.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry added that they would liaise with their allies concerning Moscow’s “violent acts”, saying they “pose a threat to the security of all states of the Black Sea region, and therefore require a clear reaction from the international community”.
The FSB, however, says Kyiv “illegally” entered its territorial waters and carried out “dangerous manoeuvres” against the orders of Russian authorities, prompting them to act.
Passage through the Kerch Strait had been “temporarily blocked” by a Russian cargo ship sitting under a Moscow-controlled bridge “for security reasons” when the incident unravelled, they added.