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Russia Seizes Ukrainian Ships near Crimea

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Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors.

Russia’s FSB security service said early on Monday its border patrol boats had seized the Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea and used weapons to force them to stop, Russian news agencies reported.

The FSB said it had been forced to act because the ships — two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat. — had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously.

“Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB said in a statement circulated to Russian state media.

It further mentioned that “as a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.”

The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care. Their lives were not in danger, it said.

With relations still raw after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.

The Ukrainian navy said on social media that six Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the subsequent seizure of its ships which appear to have been rammed and boarded and that the Russian attack on them had occurred after they had retreated and headed back towards Odessa, the Black Sea port from where they had begun their journey.

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

Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied.

Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been maneuvering dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions.

Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year.

In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

Reuters could not independently confirm that and the Interfax news agency cited separatists as denying there had been any unusual escalation.

Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team

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