Haley Condemns ‘Outrageous’ Russian Firing on Ukrainian Ships

(Bloomberg) -- Ambassador Nikki Haley broke a day of U.S. silence over a flare-up of tensions between Ukraine and Russia, joining other United Nations Security Council members in condemning Russia for firing on Ukrainian ships near Crimea but suggesting the Trump administration won’t toughen sanctions.

Addressing an emergency meeting of the council on Monday, Haley called Russia’s actions an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and part of a broader pattern of bad behavior by Moscow. At the same time, she underscored that the U.S. believes it’s the job of the “Normandy Four” -- Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia -- to resolve the crisis.

The sense that it’s largely Europe’s problem to solve reflects the view at the White House, according to one person close to the situation. Haley’s comments were the first formal response from the U.S. almost a day after Russian warships fired on the Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait, causing tensions between the two countries to spike anew.

Asked about the confrontation hours after Haley spoke, President Donald Trump told reporters that he’s “not happy.”

“I’m not happy about it at all,” Trump said. “We don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully it’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not -- they are not thrilled. They are working on it too. We’re all working on it together.”

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko had called for 30 days of martial law, and warned of a “serious” threat of Russia conducting a ground operation against Ukraine. In Kiev, lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a limited version of martial law that will take effect in coastal regions and those bordering Russia on Nov. 28 and last for 30 days.

Repeated requests for U.S. comment throughout the day on Sunday had resulted in silence, with the White House referring questions to the State Department, where officials declined to return emails. The only exception was a tweet from Kurt Volker, the State Department’s special representative for Ukraine, who tweeted on Sunday, “Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???”

Haley appeared to acknowledge the delay in comments from the administration, saying in her remarks that she had spoken earlier in the day to Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and emphasizing that her comments reflected “concern at the highest level.”

“As President Trump said many times, the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia but outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible,” Haley said.

Details of what happened in the strait remained hazy Monday -- one reason the U.S. may have been slow to respond. Several Ukrainian sailors were wounded in the clash, and Russia detained Ukrainian ships as well.

Condemnation of Russia’s actions flowed in from the Security Council as well as other nations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has “grave questions” about the Russian action, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said. At the same time, Estonia and Poland were among only a few countries other that called for new sanctions on Russia.

Nonetheless, the ruble and Russian stocks slid the most in emerging markets and borrowing costs jumped. The ruble weakened as much as 1.7 percent against the dollar on a day of strong gains for most emerging-market currencies. Analysts at Nomura Holdings Inc. said the drop could extend further, erasing recent gains that were spurred by bets that harsh U.S. sanctions will be delayed.

Russia remained defiant. Its deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, called the incident a “mythical Russian act of aggression” and said it was Ukraine that had violated Russia’s sovereignty, not the other way around. He said Russia had to stop the vessels because “Ukrainian radicals” had vowed to blow up a new bridge connecting Russia and Crimea.

Polyansky said Poroshenko, whose popularity has plunged, was looking for an excuse to scrap presidential elections set for March, and accused his government, in cahoots with western powers, of trying to brainwash average Ukrainians.

“This provocation was pre-planned, that’s obvious, and it was in full connivance with western states,” Polyansky said.

The military action comes just days before Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet at the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires this week. It will be their first formal meeting since a summit in Helsinki in July, where Trump was widely criticized for failing to call Putin to account over interfering in the 2016 election and suggested that he gave greater weight to Putin’s denials of involvement over the assessment of his own intelligence community.

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