Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel spoke on the phone on the night to discuss the “dangerous incident”, which took place on Sunday in the Black Sea. During this phone call with the German Chancellor, the Russian President “expressed serious concern over Kiev’s decision to put its armed forces on combat alert and impose martial law,” said a Kremlin statement.
The Russian president denounced the “provocative actions by the Ukrainian side and a gross violation of international law by Ukraine’s warships,” he said. Putin also said he hoped Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to deter them from taking further “reckless” steps, the statement said.
On Sunday Russian coastguards captured two gunboats and a tug belonging to the Ukrainian navy that Moscow accuses of illegally entering Russian territorial waters off the annexed Crimean peninsula. The incident occurred in the Black Sea when the ships attempted to enter the Kerch Strait which leads into Sea of Azov.
This is the first open confrontation between Moscow and Kiev since the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014 and the outbreak of an armed conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists that has left more than 10,000 dead so far.
After the incident in the Kerch Strait Ukraine announced the introduction of martial law in its border regions for the next 30 days. “Martial law does not mean a declaration of war (…) or a withdrawal from the diplomatic process” of the Minsk peace agreement, said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
The scope of the measure is geographically limited: only regions that border Russia and Transnistria, as well as the southern coastal regions of the country, will be affected. Martial law will allow Ukrainian authorities to regulate the media and limit public gatherings.
Sunday night’s incident is only the latest escalation in what has been a steady rise in tension around the Kerch Strait that separates the Crimean peninsula from Russia. Russia claims control of this strait, the only sea crossing connecting the Black Sea with the sea of Azov.