Ukraine imposes martial law

A boy, with other activists, digs trenches on the coast of the Sea of Azov near the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
A boy, with other activists, digs trenches on the coast of the Sea of Azov near the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
Image: AFP

Ukraine’s president signed an act imposing martial law in border regions on Wednesday as mounting tensions over Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships saw US President Donald Trump threaten to cancel talks with Vladimir Putin.

President Petro Poroshenko’s spokesperson confirmed he had signed the act, which introduces martial law for 30 days in 10 regions bordering Russia, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

The move came after Poroshenko warned of a buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine’s borders, escalating the most dangerous crisis in years between the former Soviet neighbors.

Russia said it would send more of its advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Crimea and a Russian warship was reportedly deploying nearby as tensions with Ukraine rose over Moscow’s seizure of Ukrainian navy ships.

Russia has steadily poured new military hardware into Crimea since it annexed it from Ukraine in 2014, turning it into what Kremlin-backed media have called a fortress.

Western governments have accused Russia of acting illegally in seizing the three ships and Trump has said he is considering cancelling planned talks with Putin at this week’s G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

He said he would make a final decision after hearing a report from national security advisers on the incident.

“That will be very determinative,” Trump told the Washington Post. “Maybe I won’t have the meeting.”

Russian border patrol boats fired on, boarded and seized the three Ukrainian vessels, along with 24 sailors, on Sunday off the coast of Crimea.

The Ukrainian vessels – a tug and two gunboats – were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, but were refused access and chased into international waters by 10 Russian vessels.

Poroshenko said on Tuesday that the number of Russian units near the border with Ukraine had grown dramatically, with a threefold increase in the number of tanks.

“I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games. Ukraine is under threat of full scale war with Russia,” he said.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday voted in favour of Poroshenko’s request for martial law, which gives authorities the power to mobilize citizens with military experience, regulate the media and restrict public rallies in affected areas.

Sunday’s incident was the first major confrontation at sea in the long-running conflict pitting Ukraine against Moscow and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east.

It has raised fears of a wider escalation – in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014 – and prompted international calls for restraint.

Russian military officials said on Wednesday that Moscow would soon deploy more of its advanced S-400 air defence systems in Crimea.

Kiev has angrily demanded the release of its ships and sailors, but on Tuesday a court in Crimea ordered 12 of them to be held in pretrial detention for two months.

Three sailors in hospital were also formally detained for two months and were due to appear in court on Wednesday.

Russia has accused the sailors of illegally entering Russian waters, in what officials in Moscow said was a planned provocation by Ukrainian authorities.