Tensions Rise Between Ukraine And Russia Following Naval Clash Ukraine's parliament is weighing whether to introduce martial law. And European leaders are calling for restraint and de-escalation after the nearly five-year-old conflict, rooted in Russia's annexation of Crimea, flared up again.
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Tensions Rise Between Ukraine And Russia Following Naval Clash

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Tensions Rise Between Ukraine And Russia Following Naval Clash

Tensions Rise Between Ukraine And Russia Following Naval Clash

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Ukrainian government has declared martial law and put its armed forces on alert. This comes after yesterday's clash between Ukrainian and Russian naval ships. And at the U.N., European members of the Security Council demanded that Russia allow free navigation and release the captured Ukrainian vessels and their sailors. NPR's Lucian Kim has the latest from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: There's little debate about what happened Sunday when three Ukrainian naval vessels attempted to pass through a narrow bottleneck separating the Crimean Peninsula and the Russian mainland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: In a video filmed aboard a Russian coast guard ship, crewmembers can be heard cursing before ramming a Ukrainian tugboat.

(CROSSTALK)

KIM: Neither side denies that later the Russian coast guard opened fire to stop the other two Ukrainian vessels and seized all three of them together with their crews. Ukraine says six seamen were injured, and the Kremlin accused Ukraine of committing a dangerous provocation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMITRY PESKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told state TV that foreign military vessels had entered Russian territorial waters and needed to be stopped. Ukraine for its part says its boats were simply traveling from one Ukrainian port to another when they were attacked for no reason.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KIM: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Russian aggression against his country had reached a new level. The vastly different interpretations of what happened have their roots in Russia's armed seizure of Crimea in 2014. That's when the Kremlin gained de facto control of both sides of the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, two bodies of water Ukraine shares with Russia. Practically no country recognizes the Russian annexation, leaving Kiev and Moscow at loggerheads over access to disputed waters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POROSHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KIM: In a speech, Ukraine's president said he wants to impose martial law for 30 days because of the threat of a Russian land invasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Ukrainian).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Ukrainian).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Ukrainian).

KIM: That led to a noisy debate in the Ukrainian parliament. Poroshenko's opponents say he is trying to use the war to boost his sagging popularity before a March election. But the narrative of a new Ukrainian provocation also helps Putin. Russians' trust in their president, according to a recent poll, has dropped by 20 percent in the last year. Poroshenko spent the day rallying support by calling the leaders of NATO, the European Union, Germany and Poland. However, the Trump administration didn't react until Ambassador Nikki Haley took the floor during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: Sunday's outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory is part of a pattern of Russian behavior stoking conflict that has taken the lives of more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine.

KIM: Russian state TV suggested the naval incident may have been intended to scuttle a planned meeting between President Trump and Putin in Argentina at the end of the week. But the Kremlin says preparations for the talks are still on track. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

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