Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked NATO members including Germany to send naval vessels to the Sea of Azov to back his country in the standoff with Russia.
“Germany is one of our closest allies, and we hope that states within NATO are now ready to relocate naval ships to the Sea of Azov in order to assist Ukraine and provide security,” he told Germany’s Bild daily on Thursday, November 29.
President Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that Russian forces were right to seize three Ukrainian ships last weekend.
But Poroshenko charged that Putin “wants nothing less than to occupy the sea. The only language he understands is the unity of the Western world.”
“We cannot accept this aggressive policy of Russia. First it was Crimea, then eastern Ukraine, now he wants the Sea of Azov.”
“Germany, too, has to ask itself: What will Putin do next if we do not stop him?” he added on the day Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was to visit Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to rule out the possibility of sending German naval ships to the area, saying: “We ask the Ukrainian side too to be sensible because we know that we can only solve things through being reasonable and through dialogue because there is no military solution to these disputes.”
Merkel, speaking at a German-Ukrainian business forum, said she would discuss the conflict with Putin at a G20 summit in Argentina this weekend.
Russia fired on and then seized three Ukrainian ships on Sunday, accusing them of illegally entering its waters in the Sea of Azov, in a dramatic spike in tensions that raises fears of a wider escalation.
Kiev accused Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, of launching “a new phase of aggression.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday demanded Russia free the Ukrainian ships and sailors, warning Moscow that “its actions have consequences.”
Merkel on Thursday said a bridge from the Russian mainland to Crimea that Putin opened in May had already restricted shipping access to the Sea of Azov and therefore to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol.
“The full blame for this goes to the Russian president,” she said.
“Now what I want is that the facts of what happened are put on the table, that the [crew] are released, and that no confessions are coerced like we have seen on television.”
“I would also support keeping things calm, but we must also ensure that a city like Mariupol that relies on access to the sea … is not simply cut off so that large parts of Ukraine can no longer be easily reached.”
This story was updated on November 29 and 1045 GMT to include Merkel’s reaction.
With reporting from AFP