Ukraine guilty of dangerous 'provocations,' Russia says after it seizes ships

  • Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian Navy vessels, and 23 crew members, in the Kerch Strait (a channel that separates the Sea of Azov and Black Sea, to the south of Ukraine and Russia) on Sunday has provoked international criticism and concern.
  • Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that President Putin would announce his stance on the situation in the next few days
  • Peskov said "it would be wrong to underestimate the significance and danger of such provocations," Russian news agency TASS reported.
Seized Ukrainian military vessels are seen in a port of Kerch, Crimea, on November 26, 2018. - Kiev and Moscow faced their worst crisis in years on November 26, 2018 as Ukraine and its Western allies demanded the release of three ships fired on and seized by Russia near Crimea. Russian forces boarded and captured the ships on Sunday, with Moscow accusing the vessels of illegally entering Russian waters off the coast of Crimea in the Sea of Azov.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
Seized Ukrainian military vessels are seen in a port of Kerch, Crimea, on November 26, 2018. - Kiev and Moscow faced their worst crisis in years on November 26, 2018 as Ukraine and its Western allies demanded the release of three ships fired on and seized by Russia near Crimea. Russian forces boarded and captured the ships on Sunday, with Moscow accusing the vessels of illegally entering Russian waters off the coast of Crimea in the Sea of Azov.

Russia seized three Ukrainian ships on Sunday but the Kremlin has said Ukraine is guilty of "provocations."

Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian Navy vessels, and 23 crew members, in the Kerch Strait (a channel that separates the Sea of Azov and Black Sea, to the south of Ukraine and Russia) on Sunday has provoked international criticism and concern.

But Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that President Putin would announce his stance on the situation in the next few days and that "it would be wrong to underestimate the significance and danger of such provocations," Russian news agency TASS reported.

Ukraine called the seizure an "act of aggression" and said the incident violates a 2003 treaty between the countries that enshrines shared access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov.

Russia said the ships were illegally in its territorial waters in the Black Sea and said they were "performing dangerous maneuvers." Russia also says that the ships did not respond to the demands of the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, Russia's intelligence agency) border directorate and the Black Sea Fleet to stop.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Ukraine had violated maritime law and "international law" and said Russia had no doubt that "this was done with the knowledge of the Ukrainian authorities."

"I think we haven't yet seen everything in terms of the consequences of yesterday's provocations," he told reporters Tuesday.

Sanctions scenario

Yet the move could backfire on Russia in terms of a potential extension of Ukraine-related U.S. and European sanctions.

Punitive measures have been in place since Russia's annexation of Crimea and role in a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine in 2014; the sanctions target individuals, entities and Russian sectors (like energy, finance and defense) deemed to have played a direct or indirect role in the Ukraine crisis. These could now be extended when the series of sanctions expire at different times in 2019.

For now, tensions between the main protagonists remain high. On Monday, Ukraine's parliament approved a presidential decree that has seen a 30-day period of martial law imposed in certain parts of the country, namely districts bordering Russia.

Peskov also said that Ukraine's decision to impose martial law posed the risk of escalating the conflict in certain areas of the country ahead of presidential election due end of March 2019.

"This is Ukraine's domestic affair," Peskov said, "but amid the elections, certainly, such a step as imposing martial law has a special undisguised undertone. Potentially, the imposition of martial law in some regions may pose a risk of escalating tensions in the conflict-hit region, namely the southeast."

Martial law would provide state institutions with greater power, while restricting civil liberties such as public gatherings, media freedoms and free movement in Ukraine.

Peskov didn't rule out Putin discussing the matter with U.S. President Donald Trump at a Group of 20 (G-20) meetings in Buenos Aires this coming weekend." When contacted by CNBC, the Kremlin's press office would not make an immediate comment on the incident.