United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley tore into Russia's "outlaw actions" at an emergency Security Council meeting Monday, calling for the release of Ukrainian ships and crew members who were harassed, rammed and seized by Russia over the weekend.
"What we witnessed this weekend is yet another reckless Russian escalation," said Haley, 46, who is resigning from her UN post at the end of the year. "The United States continues to stand with the people of Ukraine against this Russian aggression," she added in her remarks.
President Donald Trump backed up Haley later Monday in remarks to reporters. "We've let our position be known and we're not happy about it," Trump said outside the White House.
Haley's heated comments offer some of the most direct criticism of Russia yet by the Trump administration, which has been open to warming relations with President Vladimir Putin's regime even as U.S. intelligence agencies blame Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.
Three Ukrainian ships passing from one port to another through the Kerch Strait of the Black Sea — as they routinely do, Haley said — were blocked and fired upon by Russians on Sunday.
The action sparked an international outcry, as well as calls for more sanctions against Russia.
But the Kremlin's foreign ministry blamed Ukraine for the incident, saying Kiev concocted a "painstakingly thought-through and planned provocation" that was "aimed at igniting another source of tension in the region in order to create a pretext to ramp up sanctions against Russia."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Monday that he will impose martial law across Ukraine for 30 days, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 28.
In a statement released later Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Haley's condemnation of Russia's actions in the Black Sea. Pompeo also urged Putin and Poroshenko to "engage directly to resolve this situation."
Haley noted during the Monday meeting that Trump's administration "would welcome a normal relationship with Russia."
Trump has complimented Putin before and after becoming president. During a joint news conference in Helsinki in July, Trump even appeared to side with Putin over the conclusions of his own U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Haley did not say whether the U.S. would consider ramping up sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its "violation under international law."
But the U.S. will maintain existing sanctions slapped on Russia for its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, she said, and "further Russian escalation of this kind will only make matters worse."
The "outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory is part of a pattern of Russian behavior that includes the purported annexation of Crimea, and abuses against countless Ukrainians in Crimea," Haley said, "as well as stoking a conflict that has taken the lives of more than ten thousand people in eastern Ukraine."
She added: "It shows no signs of decreasing."