Ukraine imposes martial law after Russia allegedly seizes three of their ships

One day after Russia allegedly fired at three Ukrainian naval vessels near Russia-occupied Crimea, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a motion to impose martial law, which was supported by a vote in Ukraine's parliament. "We consider it as an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat," President Petro Poroshenko said Monday, "Unfortunately, there are no 'red lines' for the Russian Federation." President Poroshenko demanded Russia immediately release the sailors and ship seized, then signed a decree to introduce martial law across the country, which will include partial mobilization and strengthening of the country's air defense, saying, “The introduction of martial law does not involve measures related to limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens or the introduction of censorship”.

Three Ukrainian ships and crews were seized by Russian coast guard ships after the Russian vessel rammed a Ukrainian tugboat transporting artillery boats from Odessa on the Black Bea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, via the Kerch Strait. The Kerch Strait is Ukraine’s only access between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which is spanned by a twenty-kilometer bridge completed by Russia this year.

The two countries have been locked in a stalemate since Russia militarily annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014. The capture of the three Ukrainian vessels comes after months of incidents in the Sea of Azov that has involved inspections and seizures of ships. Despite a 2003 treaty designating the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters, Russia has continued to assert greater control over the passage since its annexation of Crimea.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine violated international law and provoked Russia by sending its navy vessels through the Kerch Strait without permission, a claim Ukraine's Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) Volodymyr Yelchenko called an "outright lie". The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, “It’s obvious that this painstakingly thought-through and planned provocation was aimed at igniting another source of tension in the region in order to create a pretext to ramp up sanctions against Russia,” and  “We’d like to warn the Ukrainian side that the policy of provoking a conflict with Russia in the area of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, which has been pursued by Kiev in coordination with the United States and the European Union, is fraught with serious consequences.”

The European Union and NATO called for restraint from both sides. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expressed the military alliance’s “full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including its full navigational rights in its territorial waters under international law.