Ukraine leader urges German naval presence in Black Sea
MOSCOW — Ukraine’s leader called on Germany and its allies to boost their naval presence in the Black Sea to deter Russia from further aggression in the region and said Russia was blockading Ukrainian ports on the nearby Sea of Azov.
President Petro Poroshenko says Russia has deployed a large number of troops along its border with Ukraine. He alleged in an interview published Sunday that Russia intends to push inland into Ukraine following a clash in the Black Sea between the countries’ forces.
“We need a strong, unified, unambiguous reaction to Russia’s aggressive behaviour,” Poroshenko said in the interview published by Germany’s Funke Media Group.
Citing the imminent threat of a Russian offensive, Poroshenko convinced the Ukrainian parliament to implement 30 days of martial law.
During the naval clash a week ago, Russian coast guard vessels fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval boats and their 24 crew members. The incident has driven tensions between Russia and Ukraine to their highest point since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
“Moscow is trying to create a land corridor from occupied Donbas to occupied Crimea by blockading Mariupol and Berdyansk,” Poroshenko said in the interview.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the Nov. 25 clash in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. During that engagement, Russia closed the Kerch Strait to all traffic. Ukrainian officials have since accused Russia of denying passage to Ukrainian commercial traffic in and out of Mariupol and Berdyansk.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko has promised Orthodox parishioners that they will be free to choose their affiliation after the creation of the new autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Amid deteriorating ties with Moscow, Kyiv has been pushing for the creation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church, free of control from the Moscow Patriarchate. That would be a momentous step, splitting the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox denomination.
The president said Saturday “the state guarantees the constitutional right to freedom of religion, including for those who want to remain united with the Russian Orthodox Church.”
A Ukrainian border guard checks documents of a woman crossing the border the Ukraine-Russia border in Milove, eastern Ukraine, on Sunday. On a map, Chertkovo, Russia, and Milove, Ukraine, are one village, but it is split by a border fence built by Russia this year.