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Ukraine approves 30-day martial law after Russian ships seize Ukrainian vessels

Petro Poroshenko before Ukrainian Parliament. (Ukrainian Government/Released)
November 26, 2018

Ukrainian Parliament has voted to impose martial law, this after tense clashes with Russia in the Black Sea on Sunday.

The Ukrainian government now has powers to regulate the media and restrict public rallies, the BBC reported. Martial law will last for 30 days starting Nov. 28.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko released a statement after his decree for martial law was approved by Parliament.

It says, in part:

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Russia has been waging a hybrid war against our country for five years. But with an attack on Ukrainian military boats it moved to a new stage of aggression. No one will say now: “They are not there”. No one camouflages into green humanoids or militiamen. This is a bold and frank participation of the regular units of the Russian Federation, their demonstrative attack on the detachment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This is a qualitatively different situation, a qualitatively different threat.

Read the full statement here.

The unprecedented incident took place on Sunday, when Russian forces fired on and then seized three Ukrainian Naval vessels in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia-controlled Crimea.

Russia claims the Ukrainian vessels had “illegally” entered its waters and were engaging in “illegal” activities. Russia also captured and is holding 23 Ukrainian sailors, six of whom are said to be wounded.

Video footage of the clash has been circulating around the world.

President Poroshenko on Monday had signed a decree introducing martial law in the country for 60 days, until Jan. 25, 2019. The decree needed to be approved by Ukrainian Parliament in order to be in full effect.

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Martial law is when a country imposes direct military control across normal functions of its government. This is often the response to a national disaster or major invasions. The last time Kyiv declared martial law was in 2014, when Russia seized and took control of the Crimean Peninsula in a war against eastern Ukraine, which is still being waged today.

“We consider it as an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat,” Poroshenko said in a statement on the President’s website. “Unfortunately, there are no “red lines” for the Russian Federation.”

“The use of weapons by the Russian Federation, the attack on the Ukrainian ships was unprovoked. It was, as the Chief of the General Staff has already said, a usual operation aimed to move the ships to the deployment sites Mariupol-Berdiansk. They did not have any special weapons, except for the service weapon, they had no special missions,” the President explained. “We have irrefutable evidence that this aggression, this attack on the Ukrainian Navy’s warships was not a mistake, not an accident, but a targeted action, including as regards the use of weapons against Ukrainian sailors, which had severe consequences.”

“In no way were the Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian military leadership informed about such a behavior by the Russian armed forces,” he added.

According to Russian news agencies, the Russian FSB claims it seized the three ships because they “illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously,” the Irish Times had reported.

“Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB reportedly said in a statement. “As a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.”

The FSB also reportedly said there were only three Ukrainian sailors wounded, but that their lives were not in danger.

Poroshenko has demanded that Russia release the Ukrainian sailors and ships, and says the sailors have been “brutally detained in violation of international law,” Radio Free Europe reported.

President Poroshenko also said Moscow should “ensure de-escalation of the situation in the Sea of Azov as a first step.”

He tweeted, “I appeal to the leadership of the Russian Federation demanding to immediately release the Ukrainian soldiers, who in violation of the international law, the brutal, detained and whose destiny is unknown. Ukraine needs to pass urgently to the Ukrainian side together with ships,” as translated.

An emergency meeting of top Ukrainian military leaders was called Sunday after Ukraine said that Russia rammed one of its Navy tugboats, fired on two other Ukrainian Naval gunboats and seized all three after a short chase.

This all took place off the coast of Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed from Ukraine in 2014 against the warnings of international leaders, including then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

In a statement, Ukraine said its Navy gunboats Berdyansk and Nikopol were fired upon, hit and disabled. The Navy tugboat was forced to stop after being rammed.