Ukraine backs martial law after confrontation at sea with Russia

Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine’s parliament approved the introduction of martial law in border regions on Monday, as Russian state TV aired images of Ukrainian sailors captured after Moscow seized three of Kiev’s ships in a confrontation at sea.

After intense debate, 276 lawmakers voted in favour of President Petro Poroshenko’s request for martial law in border areas for 30 days.

The decision came after Russian forces boarded and captured Kiev’s ships on Sunday, with Moscow accusing the vessels of illegally entering Russian waters off the coast of Crimea in the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine and its Western allies say Russia illegally blocked the strait and acted against international law by grabbing the vessels and sailors.

The martial law gives Ukrainian authorities the power to mobilise citizens with military experience, regulate the media and restrict public rallies.

Amid fears of a Russian ground offensive, Poroshenko had wanted the law to cover the entire country but it was limited to border regions after opposition from lawmakers.

Before the vote, Poroshenko had accused Moscow of a “new phase of aggression.”

With Ukraine’s military on high alert, images of several captured sailors were broadcast on Russia’s state-run channel Rossiya 24 showing interrogations by Moscow’s security services.

At one point, one of the sailors is heard saying that “the actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocatory character” — parroting the version of events put forward by Russian authorities.

The incident has raised fears of a wider military escalation. The UN Security Council met in an emergency session, where US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Russia against “outlaw actions”.

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