Russia reopens Kerch Strait to shipping amidst Ukraine standoff

Russia reopens Kerch Strait to shipping amidst Ukraine standoff

Russia in the early hours of Monday morning reopened the Kerch Strait near Crimea, to shipping after firing on and seizing three Ukrainian naval ships a day earlier.

The move has triggered a dangerous new crisis between the two countries.

Russia’s FSB security service said early on Monday, its border patrol boats had seized two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors. It is the most serious clash between Moscow and Kiev in years.

Russia had previously blocked the Kerch Strait near Russia-annexed Crimea to stop the ships from passing from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, saying the small flotilla had not notified it of its plans in advance and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously.

With relations still raw after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries toward a wider conflict and is likely to renew Western calls for more sanctions on Moscow.

Kiev, which denied its ships had done anything wrong, accused Russia of military aggression and asked for the international community to mobilize to punish Russia.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on the latest developments at the request of Russia and Ukraine later on Monday, diplomats said.

The European Union said in a statement it expected Russia to restore freedom of passage via the Kerch Strait and urged both sides to act with the utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation. A NATO spokeswoman issued a similar appeal to both sides.

The Ukrainian parliament is due to consider a proposal to impose martial law for 60 days later on Monday after Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, met his top military and security chiefs on Sunday night.