Putin Warns That Martial Law in Ukraine Could Trigger Violent Flare-up in Country’s East

Russia and Ukraine traded blame for the confrontation that raised the specter of a full-blown conflict between the neighbors

A Ukrainian police officer walks near his position at the checkpoint in Berdyansk, south coast of Azov sea, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018
AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

The Kremlin has warned that the martial law that will go into effect in parts of Ukraine on Wednesday might trigger renewed hostilities in the separatist-held east.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday adopted a motion by the president to impose martial law for 30 days, something that Ukraine avoided doing even when Russia annexed its Crimean peninsula or sent in clandestine troops and weapons to the war-torn east.

The vote followed Sunday’s standoff near Crimea in which Russian border guards rammed into and opened fire on three Ukrainian navy vessels as they were trying to make their way from the Black Sea toward a Ukrainian port. The Russians seized the ships and their crews, who are expected to face a court later on Tuesday.

Russia and Ukraine traded blame for the confrontation that raised the specter of a full-blown conflict between the neighbors. Ukraine said its vessels were heading to the Sea of Azov in line with international maritime rules, while Russia charged that they had failed to obtain permission to pass through the narrow Kerch Strait that is spanned by a bridge that Russia completed this year.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, warned on Tuesday that the martial law introduced in 10 Ukrainian regions “has the potential” of triggering a flare-up in hostilities in the country’s east.

Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s industrial heartland that borders Russia have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014, but the hostilities have largely subsided since a truce was signed in 2015.

Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the phone in the early hours on Tuesday, and the Russian president expressed a “serious concern” about what the martial law in Ukraine might entail.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday that Berlin has “called on Russia and Ukraine to show the greatest possible restraint” and suggested that Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine could work together to resolve the tensions.

Asked about other offers of mediation that were made previously, Peskov said Russia has no need for it because it views the standoff in the Black Sea as a simple case of a violation of its border.