Vladimir Putin has said it is “too early” to return Ukrainian sailors and naval vessels seized by Russia in the Sea of Azov, accusing the Ukrainian government of provoking an incident as a distraction from domestic problems.
The Guardian reports Putin speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, where Donald Trump cancelled a meeting with the Russian leader because of Moscow’s refusal to release the 24 Ukrainians. The Russian president said it was necessary to detain the captives while a legal case was put together to demonstrate that the three Ukrainian naval vessels violated Russia’s territorial waters. He said the ships’ logs would show that their attempt to cross the Kerch strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov – enclosed by Russia, the Crimean peninsula and mainland Ukraine – was a deliberate provocation.
Asked if he might consider exchanging the captive sailors for Russians in Ukrainian detention, Putin said: “We are not considering a swap and Ukraine did not raise this issue, and it’s too early to talk about that. They are still being investigated.
Meanwhile, Fox News reports “Russia is building up its land forces and weapons along the border, Ukraine’s president said Saturday as German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russia not to block Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine were still escalating a week after a naval clash in the Black Sea on Nov. 25 in which Russia fired on three Ukrainian naval ships then seized them and their 24 crew members.
Speaking at a Ukrainian military event, President Petro Poroshenko said Russia has deployed “more than 80,000 troops, 1,400 artillery and multiple rocket launch systems, 900 tanks, 2,300 armored combat vehicles, 500 aircraft and 300 helicopters” along their common border.
These numbers, which have not been verified, would account for the vast majority of men and hardware assigned to Russia’s Western Military District.”