Haley Slams 'Outrageous' Russia Seizure of Ukrainian Ships; Senators Demand Harsher Response

Ukrainian Navy ships are held in the port of Kerch, Crimea, on Nov. 26, 2018. (Alexey Malgavko/Sputnik via AP)

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said today at an emergency UN Security Council meeting that Russia’s weekend seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea was “another reckless Russian escalation” and “is no way for a law-abiding, civilized nation to act.”

The vessels were headed toward the Azov Sea through the Kerch Strait on Sunday when Russia fired upon the Ukrainians. Six sailors were reportedly wounded. The trio of Ukrainian ships were taken to port in occupied Crimea and have been held there along with 23 Ukrainian sailors.

The Russians claimed that the ships entered a “prohibited area”; the strait had always been dual-use under a 2003 agreement between the two countries, but since invading and annexing Crimea Russia has claimed control over the strait.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on national TV today that Russia is preparing a ground assault on the country. “Reconnaissance data suggest an extremely serious threat of a land-based operation against Ukraine. I have a document of intelligence in my hands, a summary of our intelligence data. Here on several pages is a detailed description of all the forces of the enemy located at a distance of literally several dozens of kilometers from our border,” he said. “Ready at any moment for an immediate invasion of Ukraine. A rifle hanging on the wall will go off sooner or later. And these are planes, helicopters, tanks, missile complexes, armored personnel carriers, salvo fire systems.”

Poroshenko declared 30 days of martial law; he originally proposed 60 days. “I will make every effort to stay within this short term and squeeze out the maximum opportunities from this month to increase our readiness to repel a possible full-scale offensive of the aggressor country: Russia,” he said.

At the Security Council meeting, Haley slammed the “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” as “part of a pattern of Russian behavior that includes the purported annexation of Crimea, and abuses against countless Ukrainians in Crimea, as well as stoking conflict that has taken the lives of more than ten thousand people in eastern Ukraine, and it shows no sign of decreasing.”

“Ukrainian ships set sail from one Ukrainian port to another Ukrainian port. They attempted to do so by the only possible way to go, through the Kerch Strait. Both Russia and Ukraine use the strait routinely. But this time, Russia decided to prevent passage of the Ukrainian ships, rammed them, and then opened fire on them,” she said, adding the violation under international law is “an arrogant act that the international community must condemn and will never accept.”

“In May, the United States condemned Russia’s construction and opening of the Kerch Strait Bridge between Russia and occupied Crimea. In August, the United States condemned Russia’s harassment of international shipping in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait,” she continued. “The United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine against this Russian aggression.”

Haley said the United States “will maintain its Crimea-related sanctions against Russia,” but did not outline any further measures.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) called on the administration to “urgently outline a series of diplomatic, economic, and defense posture measures to deter the Kremlin, such as additional deployments of U.S. and NATO assets in the European theater, sanctions against senior Russian officials and their families, and deep cuts to Russian diplomatic presence in the United States.”

“I also renew my call on the State Department to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law,” Gardner said today. “Putin’s global campaign to test our resolve and undermine the United States and our allies cannot go unanswered.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said that in response the Trump administration “must immediately increase security assistance to Ukraine, including the provision of lethal maritime equipment and weapons.”

President Trump is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires. Menendez said the U.S. should commit to increased Ukraine assistance before then.

“Once again, the Kremlin has shown that it only respects a strong adversary that is willing to stand up to bullies. At this precarious time, the U.S. cannot afford a weak performance by President Trump at the G20, like we saw in Helsinki,” the senator added. “Mr. President, this is your opportunity to finally show American leadership in defense of our principles and our close allies across Europe.”

Trump has not commented on the Russian action against the ships. He tweeted Sunday, “Europe has to pay their fair share for Military Protection. The European Union, for many years, has taken advantage of us on Trade, and then they don’t live up to their Military commitment through NATO. Things must change fast!”