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Russia attacks, seizes Ukrainian vessels in Black Sea off Crimea

One Ukrainian official called the incident an act of "warmongering" that "undermines security of the whole region."
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Ukraine convened an emergency meeting of what it called its war cabinet on Sunday after it accused Russia of having fired on three of its vessels in the Black Sea, injuring at least six sailors.

Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, confirmed that it had seized what it called three Ukrainian "warships," saying they had trespassed into Russian territorial waters. It said that "weapons were used to force the Ukrainian warships to stop" and that three Ukrainian service members were treated for minor injuries, TASS, the official Russian news agency, reported Sunday night.

The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it had mobilized all naval personnel and had sent all of its ships to sea after what it described as two gunboats and a tugboat came under attack off the coast of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Oleksii Makeiev, political director of Ukraine's Foreign Affairs Ministry, called the incident an act of "warmongering" that "undermines security of the whole region." The country’s National Security and Defense Council, of which President Petro Poroshenko is chairman, approved a proposal to introduce martial law for 60 days, Poroshenko's office said early Monday.

"We have all irrefutable evidence that this aggression, this attack on the Ukrainian navy's warships, was not a mistake, not an accident, but a deliberate action," Poroshenko said.

The United Nations scheduled an emergency meeting of the Security Council for Monday morning, said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Russia's seizure of the naval vessels would represent an escalation of tensions that flared a few hours earlier, when it blocked all traffic under the Crimean Bridge into the Kerch Strait — the only passage into the Azov Sea — because of what it said was an approach of Ukrainian vessels, TASS said.

The FSB said Ukraine failed to notify Russia that its ships were planning to use the strait, a contention that Ukraine denied. While both Ukraine and Russia have rights to the sea under a 2003 treaty, Russia controls both sides of the strait.

"The vessels are carrying out dangerous maneuvers and are disobeying the Russian authorities' demands," the FSB's Border Service said in a statement. "The Border Service is taking all steps to ensure security of navigation and regulation of maritime traffic in the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait."

The Ukrainian government called the Russian actions "an act of aggression aimed at deliberately escalating the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait."

"We appeal to the whole pro-Ukrainian coalition: we must stand united!" Poroshenko said Sunday on Twitter.

The European Union said that it expected Russia "to restore freedom of passage at the Kerch strait" and that it urged "all to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation immediately."

"The E.U. does not and will not recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia" in 2014, the 28-country bloc said in a statement.

Russia's Foreign Ministry responded in a statement: "Russia regrets that Kiev's confrontational policy of destabilizing Russian-Ukrainian relations has been supported by some countries, including E.U. members."

It added: "The Russian Federation is warning everyone that the responsibility for possible further aggravation of the situation in the Azov Sea-Kerch water area lies with Ukraine and the states that support its provocative actions."

Kurt Volker, Washington's special representative for Ukraine who previously served as U.S. ambassador to NATO, questioned Moscow's account of the incident.

NATO said it was closely monitoring the developments and called for restraint.

"NATO fully supports Ukraine's sovereignty and its territorial integrity, including its navigational rights in its territorial waters," said Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman. "We call on Russia to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law."

The United States and Russia clashed in July after the White House rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to organize an independence referendum in separatist-leaning eastern Ukraine.