Putin blames Black Sea stand-off on Ukrainian president

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has laid the blame for a stand-off 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.

Ukraine has released what it says is the exact location near Crimea where its three vessels were fired on and seized by Russia, showing that they were in international waters.

But 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.

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One of the captured Ukrainian sailors speaks in a court room in Simferopol, Crimea (AP)

Putin also said the Ukrainian vessels violated the territorial waters off southern Russia, which is the internationally recognised border.

Russia considers Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, part of its country.

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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The damage on one of the three Ukrainian ships is visible after it was seized (AP)

Meanwhile Estonia, a former Soviet republic, summoned the Russian ambassador to Tallinn.

The Estonian foreign ministry says Aleksandr Petrov was told that Russia must immediately return the three vessels and release the crew.

The ministry said Wednesday that under international law, Russia must ensure that vessels from any countries can pass through the Kerch Strait unhindered.

President Kersti Kaljulaid said on Tuesday the attack constitutes “war in Europe”.

After Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Estonia, like its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania, fear that they and other former Soviet republics could be next.

The European Union is also insisting that Russia restore freedom of passage in the Kerch Strait.

European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said Wednesday that “international law obliges the Russian Federation ensures unhindered and free passage of all vessels through the Kerch Strait. Therefore we expect Russia to restore the freedom of passage”.

Dombrovskis called the Russian action “unacceptable, and we expect Russia to immediately release the vessels and the crew and ensure the needed medical assistance to the Ukrainian servicemen”.

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