A ferry sails into the Kerch Strait waterway transporting people and goods in and out of the pensinsula in Kerch, Crimea. (Photographer: Misha Friedman/Bloomberg)

Tensions Flare Between Russia and Ukraine Near Crimea: Update

(Bloomberg) -- Russia fired on Ukrainian warships Sunday, wounding several sailors and sparking the dramatic renewal of tensions between the ex-Soviet neighbors near the peninsula of Crimea, which President Vladimir Putin annexed four years ago.

The European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization called on both sides to exercise restraint and demanded Russia ensure free navigation through the Kerch Strait, a key waterway for traffic from both countries. In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a vote in parliament to consider imposing martial law for 4 p.m. Monday, a major step that his government rejected in 2014 when it was in open war with Moscow-backed separatists and forces from Russia.

Ship Chokepoint in Focus as Russia-Ukraine Tensions Flare
Russia Fires on Ukraine Navy Near Crimea as Tensions Flare: Map

Canada Condemns ‘Aggression,’ More Sanctions Likely (10:00 a.m.)

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland condemned Russia for what called “aggression” against Ukraine and vowed to remain "unwavering in its support" for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

In a research note, Eurasia Group said that a main difference from earlier clashes between Russian and Ukrainian military forces in the latter’s separatist-held east was that Moscow wasn’t denying its role in the fighting.

The incident follows months of complaints from Ukraine that Russia has harassed its vessels as it adds military forces to protect the new bridge over the Kerch straight, which it built to connect the Russian mainland to Crimea.

“Western governments will side with Ukraine against Russia over the incident itself, making new sanctions against Russia likely,” Alex Brideau, a Eurasia Group director for Ukraine, Russia, and central Asia wrote in a note. “The U.S. and EU had previously warned Russia over the increased naval activity, and EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini said last week that a response was already in the works.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing Monday that China hopes all parties remain constrained and avoid escalation through talks.

Opposition Legislators Question Need for Martial Law (8:30 a.m.)

Opposition lawmakers accused Poroshenko of seeking to impose martial law in a bid to delay next year’s presidential ballot, after Russia attacked Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov.

“An introduction of martial law all over Ukraine is an excellent chance to manipulate presidential elections and in case of need to apply some dictatorship,” Oksana Syroyid, a legislator from Samopomich parliament group and deputy assembly speaker, said on Facebook.

The possible cancellation of the presidential ballot is a “threat” for the country resembling a “coup d’etat” and will cause “a popular uprising in the streets,” the leader of Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, said on Facebook.

Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council proposed to introduce martial law for 60 days. The measure “doesn’t automatically mean” cancellation of the presidential elections scheduled for the end of March, Iryna Herashchenko, first deputy speaker of parliament and a member of Poroshenko’s bloc, said on Facebook.

U.S. Envoy Accuses Russia of Ramming Ukraine Ships (8:15 a.m.)

Kurt Volker, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, challenged the Russian account of events, appearing to blame Moscow for the conflict in one of the first official reactions from Washington.

“Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully travelling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???,” he wrote on Twitter.

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