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Putin says Ukraine provoked Russia into ship seizure as part of a 'dirty game'

Key Points
  • Ukraine is responsible for instigating a dispute with Russia in which the federation seized several Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
  • Russia ramped up its dispute with Ukraine on Sunday when it seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crew members in the Kerch Strait.
  • Ukraine said the incident was an "act of aggression," while Russia said the ships had entered its territorial waters illegally, an allegation Putin repeated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the State Awards Ceremony at the Kremlin on November 27, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. According to the Kremlin, Putin is planning to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina at the end of this week.
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine is responsible for provoking a dispute with Russia in which the federation seized several Ukrainian ships on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

"This is a dirty game within the country (Ukraine)," Putin said, addressing an audience of business people and investors at VTB Bank's 'Russia Calling' investment forum in Moscow.

"It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the (Ukrainian) president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year... The incident in the Black Sea happened, it is a border incident, no more," he said. Ukraine had used the incident as a pretext to introduce martial law, he said.

Putin's comments come after Russia ramped up its dispute with Ukraine on Sunday when it seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crew members in the Kerch Strait, a channel of water that links the Sea of Azov and Black Sea and one that's crucial for both nations' economies.

Ukraine said the incident was an "act of aggression," while Russia said the ships had entered its territorial waters illegally, an allegation Putin repeated. Both sides accuse the other of violating the conditions of a 2003 treaty that enshrines free access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov.

Putin said Wednesday that Ukraine's action was "undoubtedly a provocation" designed to boost Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's popularity ratings ahead of a presidential election in March 2019.

Russia is still laboring under international sanctions for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and role (which it denies) in a pro-Russian uprising in the east of Ukraine the same year. Those sanctions, which target Russian individuals, entities and sectors separately, could be extended beyond the current expiry dates in 2019.

On Tuesday, Poroshenko warned that Russia would face serious consequences if it attacks Ukraine, telling NBC News that Moscow would pay a "huge price" if it did so.

Talking Trump

Putin has said he hopes he can talk to Donald Trump at the G-20 summit taking place in Buenos Aires this weekend.

"I hope I can talk to Trump in Argentina. I hope we can discuss trade barriers. Trump, in general, has a positive attitude," Putin said, adding that trade barriers were harmful.

"Unilateral and politically-motivated, and illegitimate in terms of international trade law, and harmful actions (mean that) everyone will lose," he said, referencing import tariffs the U.S. has placed on Chinese goods, and threatened to impose on other nations' imports.

"What sort of advice can i give? Just abandon such policy and look for connecting points. We stand ready for this. I hope that if I happen to talk to President Trump in Argentina, I'll talk about it there," he said.

"However, it doesn't depend only on me. We need to find a general consensus (over trade). It's needed within the U.S. administration (and) would make the administration willing to cooperate with its partners."

U.S. tariffs created new opportunities for Russia, he said, and the country would be exporting agricultural goods and poultry to China "instead of the U.S. (that is) moving away from this market."

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