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

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.

Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

Updated 22 August 2019

Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

  • The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday
  • Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month

DOHA: The US and the Taliban met in Doha on Thursday, an American source close to the talks said, for potentially decisive dialogue to allow Washington to drawdown militarily in Afghanistan.
The source said the talks started around 1300 GMT — the ninth time the two foes have met face-to-face.
The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday, blasts rocked Jalalabad Monday, and the death toll from a weekend wedding bombing reached 80.
Washington’s top commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller was at the talks venue, according to an AFP correspondent.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.
Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls due in 2020.
Taliban lead negotiator Abbas Stanikzai told AFP Thursday that overall talks had been “going well.”
The talks are expected to focus on establishing a timeline for the US withdrawal of its more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been there for 18 years, it’s ridiculous,” US President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday.
“We are negotiating with the government and we are negotiating with the Taliban,” he said.
“We have good talks going and we will see what happens.”
But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Afghanistan’s incumbent administration remain unresolved.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad sought to bolster optimism for a peace agreement last week when he said in a tweet that he hoped this is the final year that the country is at war.