World News

Russia Isolated at UN as Western Nations Condemn Attack on Ukrainian Ships

Posted November 26, 2018 2:12 p.m. EST

Western countries rose to Ukraine’s defense Monday, using an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to condemn Russia for opening fire on Ukrainian naval vessels a day earlier, impounding them and wounding several sailors.

Russia’s attempt to use the session to blame Ukraine for the violence backfired, as ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France and others accused Russia of recklessness and violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Nikki Haley, the ambassador from the United States, called the episode an “arrogant act” by Russia that the Trump administration and the international community would not accept.

“As President Trump said many times, the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia, but outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible,” she said.

And Britain’s ambassador, Jonathan Allen, warned that the confrontation could presage further efforts by Russia to gain full control of the waters it shares with Ukraine.

The Ukrainians also received a strong statement of solidarity from NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, who said at a news conference in Brussels that all of the organization’s members “expressed full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” He called on Russia to ensure “freedom of navigation” for Ukraine and demanded that Russia “release immediately the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized.”

The confrontation Sunday, in the vicinity of the Kerch Strait, a narrow passage between the Black and Azov Seas, was a serious escalation in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and a rare example of direct military engagement between the two countries. Though they have been locked in a vicious war for almost five years, much of the fighting has been between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine.

“This incident is a reminder that there is a war going on in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Though details of the Sunday confrontation are murky, Russia has acknowledged firing on three Ukrainian ships as they tried to pass through the strait. Russia then seized the ships as well as their crews. At least six sailors were wounded, three seriously, the Ukrainians said, though Russia claims their injuries are not life-threatening.

Russia has said it was forced to open fire after the Ukrainian ships entered what the Kremlin called Russian territorial waters and failed to heed warnings to stop.

At the United Nations on Monday, the Russian delegation tried to convene an emergency session of the Security Council that would have condemned Ukrainian aggression, but was blocked by other members of the council.

Russia’s representative, Dmitry Polyansky, lashed out at Ukraine, accusing its leaders of fostering hatred of Russia through brainwashing, and suggested that confrontation with Russia was advantageous for Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, who is behind in the polls before elections in March.

In remarks before the session, Ukraine’s ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, warned that the clash at sea could make way for further incursions into Ukrainian territory by Russian forces. Ukraine has two major ports on the Azov Sea, Mariupol and Berdyansk, that depend on the free movement of ships through the Kerch Strait.

The violence occurred close to the 79th anniversary of the start of the Soviet Union’s war with Finland in 1939, a fact that Yelchenko said was no coincidence.

“What is happening today in the Azov Sea is reminiscent of the events of the 1930s,” he said.