A Kremlin-controlled television station released footage Tuesday purportedly showing three Ukrainian sailors confessing they were under orders to provoke the naval fracas with Russian warships off the coast of Crimea on Sunday.
The videos released by the FSB security service shows the three seamen -- identified as Andriy Drach, Serhiy Tsybizov and Volodymyr Lisoviy -- saying they were aware of the “provocative nature” of their actions. In one portion of the videos, which appear coached and were likely filmed under duress, one of the men appears to confirm that Ukraine violated the Russian border.
“We were warned by the Border Service of the Russian Federation that we were violating Russian law,” Drach, aboard the Nikopol gunboat, is shown saying to the camera. “They had repeatedly asked us to leave the territorial waters of the Russian Federation.”
Lesovoy, who identified himself as a divisional commander, reportedly said he “deliberately ignored requests via ultra-short-wave band” and that there were small arms on board as well as machine guns, the BBC reported.
“I realized that the actions of the Ukrainian navy ships were of a provocative nature,” he said.
All the men appeared to be reciting memorized texts and one of them was clearly reading from a teleprompter.
Their statements come two days after Russian border guards fired at three Ukrainian navy vessels as they were trying to make their way through the Kerch Strait near Russian-occupied Crimea. The Russians seized the ships and their crews.
A court in the Crimean capital of Simferopol ordered Tuesday that one of the Ukrainian seamen be kept behind bars until Jan. 26.
The escalation over the weekend was the first overt military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, who've been locked in a tense stalemate since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
In response, the Ukrainian government Monday night imposed martial law for one month in parts of the country officials say are vulnerable to possible military action from Russia.
President Petro Poroshenko said the extraordinary measure was needed to strengthen the country’s defenses as there was the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion from Russia.
“I have a document of intelligence in my hands…Here on several pages is a detailed description of all the forces of the enemy located at a distance of literally several dozen kilometers from our border. Ready at any moment for an immediate invasion of Ukraine,” he said, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin warned Tuesday the declaration of martial law might trigger a flare-up of hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
The FSB claimed the ships had Ukrainian SBU intelligence agents onboard with a mission to mount what they called a "provocation" in the Kerch Strait.
The SBU on Tuesday confirmed the presence of its officers on the ships but denied any nefarious intentions, saying they were simply fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy.
The SBU also demanded Russia stop using "psychological and physical pressure" on the Ukrainians — an apparent reference to the interviews of the crewmembers that Russia released late Monday.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the confrontation that raised the specter of renewing a full-blown conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine said its vessels were heading to the Sea of Azov in line with international maritime rules, while Russia charged that they had failed to obtain permission to pass through the narrow Kerch Strait, which is spanned by a new bridge that Russia completed this year. The bridge is the only land border from the Russian mainland to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
Russia was heavily criticized Monday at the United Nations by the U.S and other western nations for seizing the Ukrainian ships.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday that Berlin has "called on Russia and Ukraine to show the greatest possible restraint" and suggested that Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine could work together to resolve the tensions.
Fox News' Lukas Mikelionis and the Associated Press contributed to this report.