Russian President Vladimir Putin has laid the blame for a standoff with Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea on the Ukrainian president and his desire to get re-elected.
It is the first time that Putin has commented on the incident near Russia-occupied Crimea on Sunday that raised the spectre of a full-blown conflict between the two neighbours.
Putin said in a televised speech on Wednesday that the incident was entirely provoked by the Ukrainian vessels, which refused to communicate with Russian border guards. Putin laid the blame on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, saying that he ordered the navy to provoke the standoff with the sole purpose of scoring political points and getting re-elected next year.
The Russian military is boosting the defense of the occupied Crimean peninsula with more anti-aircraft missiles in the wake of the weekend standoff with Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea.
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The Interfax news agency on Wednesday quoted Col. Vadim Astafyev, the top Defense Ministry official in Russia’s south, as saying that Russia will add one S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to the three already deployed in the peninsula.
The announcement comes three days after Russian border guards fired on three Ukrainian vessels and seized them and their crews. The first overt military confrontation between the two neighboring countries has raised the specter of a major conflict.
Putin said the Ukrainian vessels violated the territorial waters off southern Russia – which is the internationally recognized border. This appears to run counter to the claims of the Ukrainian government, which said the ships were approaching from another direction and were firmly in international waters.
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Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday released what they said is the exact location where its vessels were fired on by Russia, showing that they were in international waters.
The statement by Ukrainian officials contradicts Russia’s argument that it was chasing the ships because they were violating its territorial waters. Russia considers Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, part of its country.
A court in Crimea on Tuesday ordered 12 of the 24 Ukrainian seamen held in custody. Others are expected to face the court later on Wednesday.