For a first official Trump administration response to Russia’s latest military action against Ukraine, this is surprisingly strong. UN ambassador Nikki Haley accuses Russia of violating international naval law in blocking access to the Kerch Strait, through which Ukrainian ships must pass to transit from its ports in the Sea of Azov to their ports in the Black Sea. Haley demanded that Russia “immediately cease its unlawful conduct” and its “outlaw actions” to restore free passage through the Kerch Strait. Otherwise, Haley hinted, the US might consider even tougher sanctions on the Putin regime in Moscow:
WATCH: In first response from US gov’t leadership, Amb. Haley says in Security Council mtg. that Russia’s shooting and seizing Ukrainian vessels is “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and marks “yet another reckless Russian escalation.” pic.twitter.com/hczWuTI5wu
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 26, 2018
Haley also demanded that the international community “condemn … an arrogant act” and demand the return of the Ukrainian ships. Western nations appear ready to escalate those demands. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg demanded that Russia release the ships and the captured sailors immediately as Ukraine has mobilized its entire military:
“We saw that Russia used military force against Ukraine in an open and direct way,” Stoltenberg told a news conference after emergency talks of the Western military alliance held at the request of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
“All allies expressed full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he added. “There is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel so we call on Russia to release immediately the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized yesterday.”
Stoltenberg said Russia should also allow all commercial vessels full access to Ukrainian ports.
Even Russian quasi-ally Turkey expressed concern over Moscow’s handling of the Kerch Strait:
Turkey said on Monday it was worried by reports that Ukrainian ships had been fired on off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea and said that shipping in the area should not be obstructed. …
“As a country sharing a Black Sea coast, we underline that passage through Kerch Strait should not be blocked,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Germany has offered to host “de-escalation” talks, but Ukraine understandably wants to bolster its security profile first. Petro Poroshenko wants to operate under martial law until the crisis is over, and has asked the Ukrainian parliament to approve the request. At the moment, it looks like Poroshenko will get what he wants:
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on Monday to introduce martial law for 60 days, a statement on his website said, though it needs parliamentary approval to come into force.
The decision came a day after Russia fired at and captured three Ukrainian vessels, triggering a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries.
Parliament was expected to debate the decree later on Monday though a televised session of a parliamentary committee unanimously supported it.
Ukrainian legislation on martial law allows for a slew of curbs, including restrictions on movement and peaceful assembly, curfews, and restricting the media, though Poroshenko’s decree made no specific references to such restrictions.
This might play right into Vladimir Putin’s hands. He provoked Georgia into a military response in 2008 that he used to justify the occupation and annexation of two Georgian provinces in what should have been a warning sign to the world of Putin’s character. Putin tried it in Ukraine with Crimea and then the Donbass, but got bogged down in the latter and incurred much more political damage on the international stage. Putin would dearly love a pretext for a new offensive against Ukraine, although at this point it would only be a pretext in the minds of Putin’s apologists and propagandists. Seizing ships going through the Kerch Strait is such an obvious provocation that no one else is going to buy a “they started it” excuse.
Haley’s statement of clear condemnation makes it plain that the US won’t buy it, either. Whether that results in concrete economic and diplomatic consequences remains to be seen.