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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Russia to place more missiles in Crimea as tensions with Ukraine escalate

US President Trump considers cancelling Putin meeting over Russian seizure of Ukrainian boats

The Ukrainian boats seized by Russia are seen in a still from video released by the Russian Federal Security Service on November 27, 2018. via Reuters
The Ukrainian boats seized by Russia are seen in a still from video released by the Russian Federal Security Service on November 27, 2018. via Reuters

Russia plans to deploy new S-400 surface-to-air missile systems on the annexed Crimean peninsula amid rising tensions with Ukraine.

News of the deployment comes after Ukraine introduced martial law for 30 days in parts of the country in response to Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian navy vessels off the Crimean coast on Sunday.

The Russian defence ministry said the new S-400 systems would be operational by the end of the year, the RIA news agency reported.

The United States and European countries have strongly criticised Russia's actions, with US President Donald Trump suggesting he might call off a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin this week.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr Trump said he was awaiting a "full report" from his national security team about the incident.

"That will be very determinative," he told the Post. "Maybe I won't have the meeting. Maybe I won't even have the meeting ... I don't like that aggression. I don't want that aggression at all."

Mr Trump was to meet Mr Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, which convenes on Friday and Saturday. The meeting was to cover security issues, arms control, and issues in the Middle East and Ukraine, White House national security adviser John Bolton said.

Senior European politicians have raised the possibility of new sanctions against Russia over the ship seizures, which the West fears could ignite a wider conflict. Moscow and Kiev blamed each other for the attack.

A Russian minister said further sanctions would solve nothing and that the incident should not be used to derail the Minsk accord, which aims to end fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kiev's forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels.

President Putin has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Moscow was ready to provide more details to support its claim that Kiev deliberately provoked the confrontation in order to trigger a crisis.

Mrs Merkel, who also spoke to Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, called for de-escalation and dialogue.

Ukraine has introduced martial law for 30 days in parts of the country it deems most vulnerable to an attack from Russia. It has said its ships did nothing wrong and that it wants the West to impose new sanctions on Moscow.

A detained Ukrainian sailor is taken to court in Simferopol, Crimea, on November 27, 2018. AFP
A detained Ukrainian sailor is taken to court in Simferopol, Crimea, on November 27, 2018. AFP

Some of the 24 Ukrainian sailors held by Russia for straying into Russian waters appeared on Russian state TV on Tuesday and admitted to being part of a pre-planned provocation. Kiev denounced what it described as forced confessions.

Their vessels were captured by Russian forces at sea near the Kerch Strait, which is the only outlet to the Sea of Azov and controls access to two major Ukrainian ports.

Senior German conservative Norbert Roettgen, a close Merkel ally, said the European Union may need to toughen its sanctions against Russia, imposed partly over Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Karin Kneissl, foreign minister of Austria, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said the EU would consider sanctions depending "on the exposition of facts and the further conduct of both parties".

Poland and Estonia, both hawkish on Russia, expressed support for more sanctions.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki said the incident in the Kerch Strait vindicated Warsaw's call for a more unified western stance towards Russia.

"Russia remains wrongly convinced that the reaction of the West isn't unified ... because in energy matters there is one stance and in defence matters there is another," he said, noting that some EU states such as Germany backed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that increases Europe's reliance on Russian gas.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also raised Nord Stream 2 when asked to comment on the Ukraine-Russia spat on Tuesday, saying some European nations should review their support for a project that "helps the Russian government".

Ms Nauert also said Europe could more vigorously implement existing sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

"The United States government has taken a very strong position in ... support of Ukraine. We would like other countries to do more as well," she told a regular briefing in Washington.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, speaking during a visit to Berlin, said more sanctions against his country would "not help to solve any problem at all".

He suggested Kiev provoked the incident to derail already halting implementation of the Minsk accord, and said Moscow had a keen interest in ending that conflict after absorbing more than a million refugees from the region.

EU foreign ministers are scheduled to discuss the crisis on December 10. EU leaders are expected later next month to agree to extend existing sanctions on Russia, diplomats said.

Russia's FSB security service released video footage on Tuesday of the captured sailors saying they had ignored Russian orders to stop. At least one appeared to be reading from a script. Ukrainian politicians said the sailors were coerced, rendering their confessions meaningless.

The FSB said it had information showing the sailors' mission had been pre-planned by the Ukrainian government and that two intelligence officers from Ukraine's SBU security service had been on board to coordinate the provocation.

Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, confirmed that his officers were on board to support the military and said one of them had been seriously wounded after Russian aircraft fired missiles at the Ukrainian vessels.

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Read more:

Russia escalates Ukraine stand-off with criminal charges

Ukraine declares martial law following Russian boat incident

Russia fires on Ukraine's navy near Crimea as tensions flare

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