Ukrainian president

Putin accuses Ukraine leader of staging Black Sea clash

Vladimir Putin has accused the Ukrainian president of plotting the stand-off between the countries’ vessels in the Black Sea to win favour ahead of a re-election. His comments came as US President Donald Trump threatened to call off his meeting with Mr Putin.

Russian border patrol boats fired on, boarded and seized three Ukrainian vessels, along with 24 sailors, off the coast of Crimea on Sunday. The Ukrainian boats were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait – the water passage between Russia and Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The clash has prompted fears of a full-blown conflict between the two neighbouring countries.

Speaking about the incident for the first time on Wednesday, Mr Putin claimed it was entirely provoked by the Ukrainian vessels, which refused to communicate with Russian border guards. He accused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of ordering the navy to deliberately provoke the stand-off with the intention of gaining support at home ahead of elections next year. “It was without doubt a provocation,” Mr Putin told a financial forum in Moscow.

“It was organised by the president ahead of the elections. The president is in fifth place ratings-wise and therefore had to do something. It was used as a pretext to introduce martial law.”

Mr Putin also said the Ukrainian vessels violated the territorial waters off southern Russia, which is the internationally recognised border. Ukraine has released what it says is the exact location near Crimea where its three vessels – a tug and two gunboats – were fired on and seized by Russia. The country says the vessels were in international waters when they were refused access to the Kerch Strait, which both Russia and Ukraine have a right to patrol according to a treaty.

The captured sailors will be tried in Russia for violating the border, according to Russian officials. Meanwhile, Russia has hit out at the US and some European countries over their attitudes to the incident.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva for a United Nations conference, was asked about Western sanctions targeting Moscow following the confrontation. He said: “I think it reflects Washington’s tendency to indulge any and all action taken by the Kiev regime, even inciting them to provocative actions.”

“There are plenty of facts which show that Washington and some European capitals are willing to tolerate the whims of the Kiev regime,” Mr Lavrov added. US President Donald Trump has said he may cancel a long-awaited summit with Putin at the G20 this week as a result of Russia’s actions against the Ukrainian boats. He told The Washington Post: “Maybe I won’t have the meeting.

“I don’t like that aggression. I don’t want that aggression at all.”

European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis called Russia’s actions “unacceptable” and the Ukrainian vessels and the crew to be released immediately.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to overcome their dispute through diplomatic channels.



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