Martial law vote after Ukraine-Russia clash

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Ukraine’s parliament is to decide whether to bring in martial law, after Sunday’s capture of three of its naval vessels and 23 crew members by Russia.

The three ships were sailing off the coast of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, when they were seized.

Russia opened fire, before its special forces stormed the vessels. Between three and six Ukrainians were injured.

Ukraine said it was a Russian “act of aggression”. Moscow said the ships had illegally entered its waters.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was proposing that parliament back a 30-day martial law – half the length of that recommended by Ukraine’s security and defense council.

He said he did not want the measure to affect presidential elections set for 31 March 2019.

Sunday’s clash is the first time Russia and Ukraine have come into open conflict in recent years, although Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists and Russia volunteers in the east since 2014.

A number of Western countries condemned Russia’s actions.

In New York, the UN Security Council met to discuss the crisis – but failed to agree a Russian-proposed agenda amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and the West.

What happened on Sunday?

This is the chronology of the dramatic events that led to the naval clash:

  • In the morning, Ukraine said it had sent two gunboats and a tug from the Black Sea port of Odessa to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov
  • Ukraine’s navy then said Russian boats had tried to intercept its vessels, ramming the tug
  • Russia accused Ukraine of illegally entering its territorial waters
  • Russia scrambled fighter jets and helicopters as the Ukrainian vessels approached a bridge over the Kerch Strait – the only access to the Sea of Azov
  • The bridge itself was blocked by a tanker
  • In the evening, Ukraine said its vessels had been fired on and seized by the Russians. Six Ukrainian crew members were injured
  • Russia confirmed it had used weapons to force the Ukrainian vessels to stop, saying three Ukrainians were injured

Russia said the Ukrainian ships were in its waters illegally because Moscow had temporarily closed an area of water for shipping.

Kiev called Russia’s actions a flagrant violation of international law, because the Black Sea is free for shipping, and Crimea belongs to Ukraine.

Ukraine also cited a 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty on unimpeded access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov.

It said it had informed the Russians in advance of its plan to move its ships to Mariupol – a claim denied by Russia.

In recent weeks, two Ukrainian vessels passed through the Kerch Straight without incident.