The US ambassador to the United Nations has warned Russia its seizure of three Ukrainian vessels was an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and urged Moscow to reduce tensions caused by its “arrogant” act.
Nikki Haley says she spoke with US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier on Monday and her statement “reflects the concerns at the highest level”.
“As President Trump has said many times, the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia,” said Haley, a member of Trump’s cabinet.
“But outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible.”
Russia on Sunday seized two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat, which Moscow said had illegally entered Russia’s territorial waters.
Kiev said its vessels did nothing wrong and has accused Russia of military aggression.
Haley said the US will maintain its Crimea-related sanctions against Russia.
Further Russian escalation would make matters worse and undermine Russia’s standing in the world, she warned.
“It will further sour Russia’s relations with the US and many other countries,” Haley said.
Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accused Ukraine of planning the incident and suggested it was because President Petro
Poroshenko’s popularity among voters was low ahead of an election next year.
“How can he maintain power in these circumstances? It’s clear – organise provocation and once again accuse Russia of everything, inflate his own ratings and put himself forward as the saviour of the nation,” Polyanskiy told the council.
“This is about cancelling the elections despite all of Poroshenko’s assurances to the contrary,” he said, warning that Russia “has never caused the first blow, but it knows how to protect itself”.
Earlier, Poroshenko halved a proposal for martial law in Ukraine to 30 days in an apparent concession to opponents.
The Ukrainian parliament is expected to vote on Poroshenko’s motion later.
The Ukrainian vessels seized by Russia on Sunday had been trying to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea via the narrow Kerch Strait that separates Crimea from the Russian mainland.
The European Union and NATO have called for restraint from both sides.
Ukrainian protesters burned a Russian flag and hurled flares at the Russian consulate in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
And hundreds of protesters from the far-right party National Corps waved flares at a protest in the snowy streets outside the Ukrainian parliament.