Russia, Ukraine escalate war of words over Kerch Strait standoff

NATO iterates call on Russia to free Ukrainian sailors

Foreign ministers from the 29 allies will meet Ukraine's foreign minister on Tuesday to discuss last week's incident in the Sea of Azov, in which the Russian navy seized three Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors. According to a Ukrainian official, Russians have reversed the closure of the Kerch Strait, more than a week after opening fire on three Ukrainian ships and taking dozens of sailors hostage.

Shipping traffic has resumed to and from Ukraine's ports on the Sea of Azov, says a Ukrainian minister while North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allied foreign ministers meet to debate ways to dissuade Moscow from destabilising Ukraine. They stated that there was "no justification for Russia's use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel" and called the sailors' release.

On Sunday, Russia seized two Ukrainian navy ships and a navy tugboat along with 23 crew members off Crimea, accusing Kiev of entering its waters and provoking a conflict.

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In addition to martial law, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also urged members of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to send ships to Ukraine to help provide more security, BBC reported.

Mariupol and Berdyansk were "partially unblocked", said Volodymyr Omelyan.

Russia, however, insisted that it never blocked vessels from sailing through the Kerch Strait and that any possible disruptions were due to bad weather. "They should release the crew to return the ship, it is not the question which we release out of our zone of attention", the official added. Russia's brinkmanship in the Sea of Azov could also presage a more aggressive pursuit by Moscow of its strategic interests across the entire Black Sea region, and has profound implications for both regional and global security. It is also rolling out air and coastal defences that will provide it with the capability to establish an anti-access/area-denial zone preventing freedom of movement that covers nearly all of the Black Sea and parts of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria. The US has shared intelligence evidence with its allies that the ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.

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The Ukrainian border guard service has denied admittance to over 600 Russian citizens since the declaration of martial law, and the number of Russians wishing to visit Ukraine has fallen 66% over that period, Ukrainian State Border Service head Petro Tsyhykal has said.

In a November 30 interview with Poland's Catholic Information Agency, KAI, Archbishop Shevchuk said he and other bishops were still trying to understand what martial law would signify.

Over the weekend, Poroshenko said that Russian Federation has deployed a large number of troops along its border with Ukraine and alleged that the Kremlin intends to push inland into Ukraine.

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