Putin re­it­er­ates provo­ca­tion claim as Merkel calls for calm

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - By REN QI in Moscow [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in­sisted on Satur­day that the in­ci­dent in the Kerch Strait was a provo­ca­tion dur­ing his work­ing break­fast with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel on the side­lines of the G20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires in Ar­gentina.

Ac­cord­ing to the Krem­lin, Putin and Merkel had a de­tailed dis­cus­sion on var­i­ous top­ics. He gave a com­pre­hen­sive ex­pla­na­tion of last week’s dis­pute in the Kerch Strait and em­pha­sized that it was staged in the run-up to the elec­tion in Ukraine.

Three Ukrainian naval ships at­tempted to force pas­sage through the Kerch Strait in Crimea, be­tween the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, last Sun­day, be­fore they were in­ter­cepted and cap­tured by the Rus­sian Coast Guard.

Crimea was in­cor­po­rated into Rus­sia in March 2014 fol­low­ing a lo­cal ref­er­en­dum. Ukraine said the penin­sula was an­nexed.

Moscow has con­demned Ukraine for vi­o­lat­ing Rus­sian ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters but Kiev has de­clared a state of emer­gency over the in­ci­dent, say­ing a “Rus­sian in­va­sion” was im­pend­ing.

“All es­ca­la­tions must be avoided,” Merkel told re­porters af­ter her meet­ing with Putin. “The free­dom of ship­ping traf­fic in the Sea of Azov … must be en­sured.”

Merkel called on Rus­sia to honor a 2003 treaty that sets out the con­nego­ti­a­tion di­tions un­der which Ukrainian ships may en­ter the Sea of Azov and reach Ukrainian cities.

“Rus­sia must stick to this,” she said.

Merkel said Ger­many had sug­gested — and Rus­sia agreed — that dis­cus­sions about the dis­pute should con­tinue at the ad­viser level in the four-way Nor­mandy for­mat that has sought to ease ten­sions be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sia.

Ukraine Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko kept up the pres­sure from Kiev, say­ing Putin had re­fused to take his calls since the cri­sis flared up.

He said that when the in­ci­dent hap­pened, he in­structed his of­fice to set up a call with the Krem­lin leader to say “we are ready for this to de-es­ca­late … and un­for­tu­nately, un­til now, Putin did not an­swer my re­quest for a di­rect phone con­ver­sa­tion.”

Poroshenko told France 24 in an in­ter­view that Ukraine would try to re­solve the stand­off diplo­mat­i­cally but in­sisted Rus­sian forces with­draw from Crimea, and re­turn its ships and sailors “cap­tured il­le­gally in the neu­tral wa­ters of the Black Sea”.

Mean­while, Putin replied that there would be no end to the con­flict with Ukraine “as long as the cur­rent au­thor­i­ties re­main in power”.

“The cur­rent Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties have no in­ter­est in re­solv­ing the con­flict, es­pe­cially by peace­ful means,” the Agence France-Presse quoted Putin as say­ing at the sum­mit.

“As long as they re­main in power, the war will con­tinue,” the Rus­sian leader added.

Putin also said he briefed his US coun­ter­part Don­ald Trump on the Ukraine cri­sis.

Putin said he ex­plained Moscow’s position to the US pres­i­dent when the lead­ers met briefly at a sum­mit din­ner on Fri­day, AFP re­ported.

“We spoke stand­ing up. I replied to his ques­tions about the in­ci­dent in the Black Sea,” Putin said.

Mean­while, the Krem­lin hopes that Trump and Putin can meet and hold talks be­fore a G20 sum­mit in Ja­pan in June next year, a Krem­lin aide said on Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Reuters.

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