Ukraine imposes martial law and warns of ‘full-scale war’ with Russia

Kremlin blames Kiev and its western allies for Black Sea clash that sparked new crisis

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko meets servicemen as he visits the 169th training centre “Desna” of the Ukrainian army ground forces in Chernihiv Region, on Wednesday. Photograph: Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko meets servicemen as he visits the 169th training centre “Desna” of the Ukrainian army ground forces in Chernihiv Region, on Wednesday. Photograph: Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters

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Much of Ukraine is stepping up security and the combat readiness of military units, after 10 regions introduced martial law in response to Russia firing on and seizing three of Kiev’s naval ships and 24 crewmen in the Black Sea.

The affected areas – which border Russia, the Black Sea and Sea of Azov and a Moldovan province run by Kremlin-backed separatists – now face a heightened risk of attack by Moscow’s troops, according to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.

His Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin rejected those claims on Wednesday and accused him of ordering Sunday’s “provocation” in the Black Sea to boost his low ratings ahead of Ukrainian presidential elections in March.

“We are calling up reserves and sending out bigger border teams, including with weapons and in armoured vehicles if necessary,” said Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border guards.

“Our military reserves are ready for action – naval defences and aviation. All these measures are aimed exclusively at strengthening the protection and defence of the state border.”

Maxim Stepanov, governor of Odessa province which is on the Black Sea and borders the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria, said there were no plans for a curfew, mass mobilisation or confiscation of property for military needs.

“If there’s no open invasion by the Russian Federation then there won’t be any restrictions on citizens’ rights. There’s no reason to panic,” he added.

“The train station and airport are important pieces of infrastructure and security there will be strengthened . . . and tighter measures will be imposed for crossing the borders,” Mr Stepanov said, noting that Russian citizens entering Ukraine would face particular scrutiny.

“We will strengthen measures on information – and cyber-security. We will put air defences on standby,” he added.

‘Combat alert’

Maxim Soroka, spokesman for border guards in the Azov-Black Sea region that borders Russian-occupied Crimea, told Radio Free Europe that all units there “are on combat alert . . . Reinforcement measures have been taken in all areas.”

Visiting a military base on Wednesday, Mr Poroshenko said “we will redeploy forces” but insisted there would be no offensive against Russian-led militia in eastern Ukraine.

“Above all we should have weapons ready on the territory of Donetsk and Zaporizhia regions on the coast of the Azov Sea. Why? Because they want to link occupied Crimea with the occupied eastern part of our state.”

Mr Poroshenko told Ukrainian television that the Black Sea contretemps was “just the start” and that his country faced the threat of “full-scale war” with Russia; the number of Russian tanks at a base 18km from Ukraine’s border had tripled from September to October, he claimed.

Mr Poroshenko also spoke to US television, ahead of possible talks between US president Donald Trump and Mr Putin at a meeting of G20 states in Argentina on Friday and Saturday.

Asked by NBC news what message he would like Mr Trump to deliver to the Russian leader, Mr Poroshenko said: “Please get out from Ukraine, Mr Putin.”

‘I don’t like that aggression’

Mr Trump said he would decide whether to meet Mr Putin after a briefing on Ukraine from security advisers: “Maybe I won’t even have the meeting . . . I don’t like that aggression. I don’t want that aggression at all.”

Mr Putin described the Black Sea clash as “a provocation organised by the current authorities and current president, ahead of presidential elections in Ukraine.”

As Russia announced the deployment of new S-400 missiles to Crimea, Mr Putin criticised the West for “short-sightedly” backing Kiev’s leaders.

“You get the impression that whatever they do, they get away with it,” he said.

“If today they demand babies for breakfast then they’ll probably be given babies, and they’ll just say ‘well, they want to eat, what can be done about that?’”

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