Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday warned of the threat of “full-scale war” and said Russia had sharply increased its military presence on their shared border as tensions escalate between the ex-Soviet neighbours.
The crisis also threatened growing diplomatic fallout with US President Donald Trump warning that he may cancel a long-awaited summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Trump is scheduled to meet Putin at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of this week, but he told The Washington Post that it would depend on the results of a report about the incident being prepared by his national security advisers.
“Maybe I won’t have the meeting. Maybe I won’t even have the meeting,” he said.
In Ukraine, Poroshenko warned that the clash at sea could herald more drastic developments in the simmering Ukraine-Russia military standoff.
“I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games. Ukraine is under threat of full-scale war with Russia,” the president said in an interview with national television.
The number of Russian units deployed along the Ukraine-Russian border has “grown dramatically” while the number of Russian tanks has tripled, Poroshenko said, citing intelligence reports but giving no precise timescale for the buildup.
He spoke after Russian forces seized three of Kiev’s ships off the coast of Crimea on Sunday and captured 24 Ukrainian sailors.
On Tuesday, a court in Simferopol, the main city in Russian-annexed Crimea, ordered 12 of the sailors to be held in pre-trial detention for two months. Three hospitalised sailors were also formally detained for two months. The rest are to appear in court on Wednesday.
The move stoked already high tensions between Moscow and Kiev, as Russia continues to accuse the sailors of crossing illegally into Russian waters and of ignoring warnings from its border guards.
Kiev has demanded the release of the sailors and urged Western allies to impose further sanctions on Moscow.