The Latest: Merkel: Russia can’t block Ukraine’s ports
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Latest on the current dispute between Russia and Ukraine (all times local):
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia must allow ships access to Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait, which separates the Russian mainland from the annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Merkel spoke to reporters Saturday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires after holding a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last weekend, Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews in the narrow strait that separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine says Russia has imposed a de facto blockade on its Sea of Azov ports by only allowing Russian ships through the Kerch Strait.
Merkel said “free shipping into the Sea of Azov to the Ukrainian coast and harbors must be ensured.” She added this is enshrined in a 2003 treaty and Russia must stick to that.
Germany and France have sought to mediate between Russia and Ukraine in recent years.
Ukraine’s president says Russia is building up land forces and weapons along its border with Ukraine as tensions between the two countries flares in the wake of a recent naval clash in the Black Sea.
President Petro Poroshenko says Russia has deployed “more than 80,000 troops, 1,400 artillery and multiple rocket launch systems, 900 tanks, 2,300 armored combat vehicles, 500 aircraft and 300 helicopters” along their border. He spoke Saturday said at an Ukrainian military event.
These numbers, which have not been verified, would account for the vast majority of men and hardware assigned to Russia’s Western Military District.
Poroshenko’s comments come after a week of escalating tensions. The Russian coast guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 seamen in the Black Sea on Nov. 25 as they sailed to the Kerch Strait, the only waterway leading to the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine’s border service says around 100 Russian citizens have been denied entry into the country since an entry ban for adult Russian males was announced.
Border guards’ spokesman Andrei Demchenko has told Ukrainian television Saturday that “the vast majority of (them) couldn’t confirm the purpose of their trip to Ukraine.”
He said that “some of them didn’t have the necessary documents to enter Ukraine and others had exceeded the period of stay in our country.”
President Petro Poroshenko announced Friday that all Russian males aged 16 to 60 would be banned from entering Ukraine during a 30-day period of martial law approved Monday.
Poroshenko said the move was intended to prevent undercover Russian military units from entering the country after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews.