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Black Sea standoff: Kiev’s ‘provocation’ aims to score political points ahead of elections – Moscow

Black Sea standoff: Kiev’s ‘provocation’ aims to score political points ahead of elections – Moscow
Ukraine’s government set the stage for the Kerch Strait standoff to trigger an international row, win sympathies of the West and allow President Poroshenko to cement power in the 2019 elections, top Russian officials have said.

Moscow is urging Ukraine’s Western backers “to calm down those who try to score political points” ahead of the March 2019 presidential elections, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian media on Monday. He suggested that the tense maritime encounter, off the Crimean coast, was premeditated by Kiev.

The whole incident was staged “upon a blessing, or at least, according to a direct order from top leadership [of Ukraine],” the minister maintained. The government in Kiev “were calculating benefits” from the provocative act, hoping that the US and Europe “will unconditionally side with the provocateur.”

Lavrov advised Kiev “to behave in a saner way” as Western powers “are increasingly embarrassed by the Ukrainian leadership.”

The remarks were echoed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who also said the timing of the mid-sea clash was notable in terms of upcoming events. “This decision feels like an electoral intrigue, given the situation in Ukraine,” he opined.

The presidential aide warned that it would be “wrong and dangerous to achieve any electoral objectives by waving the banner of war.”

Mounting tensions in the Kerch Strait would allow President Petro Poroshenko to cement power and win popular support in March’s presidential elections, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said earlier on Monday.

The goal was also to “shake Ukraine up by introducing martial law, fan anti-Russia sentiments in the West and tighten the sanctions [imposed on Moscow],” according to the diplomat. The timing of the incident was also notable in terms of upcoming events, Karasin added.

Ukraine is holding presidential elections in March next year, and mounting tensions in the Kerch Strait would allow President Petro Poroshenko to cement power and win popular support. “Obviously, it is easier for Poroshenko to launch his campaign under the circumstances,” Karasin explained.

Obviously, it is easier for Poroshenko to launch his campaign under these circumstances. 

The standoff took place as several of Ukraine’s vessels were sailing between two Ukrainian ports, from Odessa in the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Azov Sea. Kiev says it notified Moscow in advance that its navy ships would be sailing through the Kerch Strait, the only waterway that connects these two ports.

The maritime encounter also came ahead of the G20 summit in Argentina this week, where Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Later in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also called the incident “a clear provocation.” He maintained Ukraine had breached an array of key international treaties which “require all states to respect sovereignty of others.”

The standoff took place as several of Ukraine’s vessels were sailing between two Ukrainian ports, from Odessa in the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Azov Sea. Kiev says it notified Moscow in advance that its navy ships would be sailing through the Kerch Strait, the only waterway that connects these two ports.

According to technical rules, vessels passing through the narrow, complex Strait should contact Kerch port, report her route and receive permission to sail through the Strait.

Moscow denies that it received any warning, forcing the Russian military to use weapons to stop the vessels. The three Ukrainian ships were eventually seized and towed to Kerch port, according to the Russian Security Service (FSB).

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