Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday lashed out against Ukraine and accused the government of playing a “dirty game”, claiming they set up the naval incident that led to the seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships with the crew becoming prisoners.
Speaking during an investment forum in Moscow, Putin accused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of attempting to score political points in a bid to get re-elected.
"This is a dirty game within the country [Ukraine],” Putin said. “It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the [Ukrainian] president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year."
“This is a dirty game within the country (Ukraine),” Putin said. “It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the (Ukrainian) president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year.”
“The incident in the Black Sea happened, it is a border incident, no more.”
Putin’s remarks came after the Ukrainian government imposed the country’s first ever martial law in parts of the country that are vulnerable to a possible military action from Russia, with Poroshenko saying there was the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion.
Western governments came out in support of Ukraine and accused Russia of violating international law. Earlier this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Ukrainian president that the alliance is supporting the country’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty,” though Ukraine is not part of the military alliance.
President Trump said he’s not “happy” about the situation and floated the possibility of canceling planned talks with Putin at this week's G20 summit in Buenos Aires. “I don't like that aggression,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Washington Post.
The Kremlin responded to the martial law in Ukraine with a pledge to deploy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems on the Crimean peninsula soon, according to the Interfax news agency.
Putin on Wednesday also reiterated the Kremlin’s story of how the clash between the ships occurred, saying Ukrainian vessels violated Russia’s territorial waters.
Russia’s main intelligence agency, the FSB, released a video on Tuesday that interviews three Ukrainian seamen, all of whom say Ukraine violated the Russian border. It was not immediately possible to ascertain if the men were talking under duress. One of them was apparently reading from a teleprompter.
But the video posted by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appears to contradict Putin’s version of the event as it shows an apparent Russian commander shouting “slam him from the right” as the Russian vessel hits the Ukrainian ship.
Poroshenko on Tuesday appeared on national television and warned of the threat of “full-scale war” with Russia. “I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games. Ukraine is under threat of full-scale war with Russia,” he said.
He went on to claim that Russia is building up its military presence along the Ukraine-Russian border, noting that with the number of tanks had tripled.
Ukraine and Russia have been involved in a long-term conflict starting in 2014. Russia-backed separatists have occupied parts of Eastern Ukraine and have held the control until this day, while Russia annexed Crimea in a referendum that most western countries deem illegal and illegitimate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.