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Ukrainian president signs martial law decree after Russia seizes ships, 23 sailors – Here are next steps

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Michał Józefaciuk/Wikimedia)
November 26, 2018

The Ukrainian President has signed a decree introducing martial law in the country for 60 days, this after an unprecedented incident 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 also captured and is holding 23 Ukrainian sailors, six of whom are said to be wounded.

The decree must now be approved by Ukrainian Parliament in order to be in full effect, and Parliament is expected to debate the decree later on Monday.

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.

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko has signed the decree calling for martial law, which would be in effect until Jan. 25, 2019.

The decree, also recommended by Ukraine’s security and defense committee, must now but submitted to Ukrainian Parliament and approved. A vote is expected later on Monday.

“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 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 also 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.

Radio Free Europe reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “accused Kyiv of violating international norms with ‘dangerous methods that created threats and risks for the normal movement of ships in the area.'”

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, “said that the Ukrainian sailors would be held responsible under Russian law for violating the border, but did not specify what that meant,” Radio Free Europe pointed out.

NATO ambassadors are said to be meeting with their counterparts in Brussels in order to discuss the tense situation. There is also an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting slated for Monday.

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.

Earlier in the day, Russia scrambled two fighter jets to monitor the Ukrainian naval ships.

Poroshenko tweeted Sunday calling out Russia’s covert “war” against Ukraine saying, “We highly appreciate the efforts of the World Congress of Ukrainians in bringing to the world public the truthful information about the war, which Russia has unleashed against Ukraine, political prisoners, oppression of human rights and freedoms in Crimea, in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”

This article has been updated with information about the Russian FSB’s statements.