Ukraine Imposes Martial Law in its Eastern Regions amid Tension with Russia
The Ukrainian navy on Sunday accused the Russian army of firing on and capturing three of its ships near the Kerch Strait, a narrow sea passage close to the Crimean peninsula. (Photo Credit: Youtube)

Ukraine has declared martial law in regions bordering Russia for 30 days starting from 28 November after a naval clash with Moscow’s special-forces in the Kerch Strait. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the decree imposing martial law in response to the naval standoff with Russia. The move was approved by Ukraine’s parliament on Monday night.

The imposition of martial law gives Ukrainian authorities to restrict public rallies and regulate the media. The law covers five regions bordering Russian territory, two regions bordering Moldova's breakaway Transdnistria region, and three regions on the Black Sea/Sea of Azov coast.

This sudden spurt of tensions came after Russian coastguard ships opened fire before its special forces stormed three Ukrainian vessels that it accused of conducting “dangerous and illegal manoeuvers” nears its vessels in the Kerch Strait. Russia has since apprehended the sailors and the Ukrainian vessels.

Ukraine said it was a Russian "act of aggression" while Moscow maintains that it was not informed about the movement of the ships that had illegally entered its waters.

Russia and Ukraine have been in a tense stand-off ever since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the crisis in an emergency session. Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, warned Russia that the seizure of the ships on Sunday in the Sea of Azov was an "outrageous violation" of Ukraine's sovereign territory and urged the international community to condemn Russia's "arrogant" act. Haley said such "outlaw actions" are preventing normal relations from developing between Washington and Moscow.

This was countered by Dmitry Polyansky, the Russian deputy representative to the UN, who accused Ukraine of manufacturing a Russian threat. "Our country has never struck the first blow, but it can stand up for itself," he told the council, adding: "The population of the Crimea, as well as other regions of Russia, is under reliable protection."

Referring to Sunday's incident, Polyansky said Ukraine had planned the "provocation" in advance with the coordination of Western states, which he said had given the Ukrainian government "carte blanche".

However, critics of Ukrainian President Poroshenko say that he could use this standoff with Russia to postpone the country’s general elections scheduled for March of 2019.