Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Ukraine: Huge Russian military buildup on border

Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces Viktor Muzhenko shows documents during an interview with Reuters in Kiev Ukraine Russia massing troops, weapons at Ukraine border – Kiev
Ellis Copeland | 03 December, 2018, 21:13

"It's an absurd statement", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Asked if he might consider exchanging the captive sailors for Russians in Ukrainian detention, Putin said: "We are not considering a swap and Ukraine did not raise this issue, and it's too early to talk about that", Putin said when asked if he would considering exchanging the sailors for Russians detained by Ukraine.

Trump on Thursday announced on Twitter that "it would be best for all parties concerned" if he and Putin did not meet as planned because Ukrainian ships and sailors recently seized in the Sea of Azov had not been released by Russian Federation. Ukraine on Monday declared the imposition of martial law in its border regions for a month, a day after Russian Federation seized three of its navy vessels off the Crimean Peninsula.

Putin said he would not introduce tit-for-tat restrictions on the entry of Ukrainians into Russia after Kiev imposed a ban on Russian males aged 16 to 60 from entering its territory.

Amid the tensions, the Russian military said its forces in occupied Crimea were conducting drills involving Bal and Bastion long-range anti-ship missile systems.

"There is no justification for this use of force", Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday.

Ukraine had stepped up security at critical infrastructure sites, including at nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, chemical factories and at ports on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, Poroshenko said.

Asked what action North Atlantic Treaty Organisation could take, Stoltenberg said: "We provide strong political but also strong practical support to Ukraine".

Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces Viktor Muzhenko speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kiev Ukraine

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said after Poroshenko first made his call for a stronger Western naval force in the Black Sea that "there is already a lot of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [vessels] in the Black Sea and we will continue to assess our presence in the region", the AP quoted her as saying.

In the Nov 25 incident, three Ukrainian naval vessels were heading from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov when they were blocked by the Russian coast guard near the Kerch Strait between Russia's mainland and Crimea.

After many tense hours of maneuvering, the Russians opened fire and seized the Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew members.

As many as 12 of the sailers are awaiting trial for allegedly violating the Russian border and have been taken into custody for two months.

The armed forces are also planning military exercises in two regions near Crimea, which Moscow annexed after protests forced out a Russia-friendly government in Kiev in 2014.

Mr Poroshenko has said he tried to arrange a phone call with Mr Putin to discuss the standoff but was refused.

Peskov said Monday that 'no such conversation is planned'.

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