Putin defends ‘lawful’ seizure of Ukrainian ships

Three Ukrainian navy vessels were seized off the coast of Crimea by Russian forces, which fired on and boarded Kiev's ships after several tense hours of confrontation. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2018
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Putin defends ‘lawful’ seizure of Ukrainian ships

  • Putin has insisted that Russian forces were in the right to seize three Ukrainian ships
  • Western governments have rallied behind Kiev

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin has insisted that Russian forces were in the right to seize three Ukrainian ships last weekend, but President Donald Trump expressed “deep concern” at Moscow’s actions against a US ally.
In his first extensive remarks since the confrontation at sea on Sunday, Putin said it had been orchestrated by Kiev as a “provocation.”
He said the Ukrainian ships had entered Russian territorial waters and refused to respond to requests to stop from Russian patrol boats.
“What were they (Russian forces) supposed to do?” Putin said on Wednesday, when asked about the incident at an international investment forum in Moscow.
“They were fulfilling their military duty. They were fulfilling their lawful functions in protecting Russia’s borders. They would do the same in your country.”
Moscow and Kiev have traded angry accusations since Russian navy vessels fired on, boarded and captured the three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea.
After warning of the threat of “full-scale war,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday signed an act imposing martial law for 30 days in regions bordering Russia, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
He also appealed to NATO members including Germany to send naval vessels to the region to back his country in the standoff.
“Germany is one of our closest allies, and we hope that states within NATO are now ready to relocate naval ships to the Sea of Azov in order to assist Ukraine and provide security,” he said in comments published Thursday by Germany’s Bild daily.
Western governments have rallied behind Kiev, accusing Russia of illegally blocking access to the Sea of Azov, used by both countries, and of using force without justification.
Trump on Tuesday threatened to cancel planned talks with Putin at this week’s G20 summit in Buenos Aires over the incident.
The White House on Wednesday said Trump and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the Ukraine-Russia incident by telephone and “the two leaders expressed deep concern about the incident in the Kerch Strait and the continued detainment of Ukraine’s vessels and crew members.”

Raised fears

The Kremlin said it still expected the Putin-Trump meeting to take place and played down the threat of cancelation, with foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov saying: “The meeting is equally needed by both sides.”
The Ukrainian vessels — a tug and two gunboats — were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, but were refused access and chased into international waters by 10 Russian vessels.
Kiev has demanded the return of its ships and the release of 24 sailors taken prisoner during the confrontation.
The sailors have been put before a court in Simferopol, the main city in Russian-annexed Crimea, and ordered to be held in pre-trial detention for two months.
Detention orders were made against 15 of them on Tuesday, including three still in hospital, and nine more on Wednesday.
“We condemn this demonstration of barbarism and are multiplying our efforts to bring our boys home,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said on Twitter after the court rulings.
Sunday’s incident was the first direct confrontation between Ukraine and Russia in the long-running conflict pitting Kiev against Moscow and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east.
It has raised fears of a wider escalation — in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014 — and prompted international calls for restraint.

Provocative actions

Russian military officials said Wednesday that Moscow would soon deploy more of its advanced S-400 air defense systems in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The Ukrainian parliament voted on Monday in favor of Poroshenko’s request for martial law, which gives authorities the power to mobilize citizens with military experience, regulate the media and restrict public rallies in certain areas.
The European Union on Wednesday strongly condemned Russia’s actions but, after three days of debate, failed to agree to threaten new sanctions.
“We are dismayed at this use of force by Russia which, against the backdrop of increasing militarization in the area, is unacceptable,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
The statement will disappoint some EU members hoping for a harder joint line, after officials earlier said the bloc was considering new sanctions against Moscow.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States and Europe of encouraging Ukraine.
“I think it reflects Washington’s tendency to indulge any and all action taken by the Kiev regime, even inciting them to provocative actions,” Lavrov told reporters in Geneva.
Moscow has suggested that Kiev provoked the incident to boost support for Poroshenko, who is facing a tough re-election battle in a presidential vote set for next March.


India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

Updated 11 December 2018
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India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

  • Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition
  • Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party could lose power in three key states, four TV networks said on Tuesday, citing votecount leads, potentially handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and months ahead of a general election.
The main opposition Congress party could form governments in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and in the western state of Rajasthan, all big heartland states that powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election.
Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition, despite his high personal popularity in the face of criticism that he did not deliver on promises of jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi’s party.
“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.”
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-center Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and face Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May.
In Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 114 of the 199 seats contested, against 81 for the BJP, in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 59 of the 90 seats at stake, with the BJP at 24. In Madhya Pradesh, the most important of the five states that held assembly elections over the past few weeks, Congress was ahead, with 112 of 230 seats. The Hindu nationalist BJP was at 103, the network said.
Three other TV channels also said Congress was leading in the three states, with regional parties leading in two smaller states that also voted, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
Indian markets recovered some ground after an early fall as the central bank governor’s unexpected resignation the previous day shocked investors.
The rupee currency dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent, with investors cautious ahead of the election results.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note before the results.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.