US warns Russia over 'outlaw' action in Ukraine

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US warns Russia over 'outlaw' action in Ukraine

United Nations: The United States warned Russia that "outlaw actions" like the seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov are preventing normal relations from developing between Washington and Moscow.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that "the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia. But outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible."

In a sharp escalation of tensions, Russia on Sunday boarded and seized three Ukrainian ships, accusing them of illegally entering Russian waters in the Sea of Azov.

The confrontation at sea raised fears of a wider military flareup.

Haley put the blame firmly on Russia for the clash, calling the seizure of the ships an "outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory" and slamming "yet another reckless Russian escalation."

But she did not threaten further sanctions, instead calling for a de-escalation of tensions.

Haley said her remarks were agreed following conversations with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and reflect "concerns at the highest level of the American government."

The US warning comes days ahead of a planned meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina later this week.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accused Ukraine of provoking the confrontation to justify the imposition of martial law and a delay of elections that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to lose.

Ukraine's parliament was to vote Monday on a request from Poroshenko to impose martial law for 60 days.

Denouncing a "mythical Russian aggression," the Russian envoy told the council "our country has never caused the first blow, but it knows how to protect itself."

Ukraine's UN ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told reporters ahead of the meeting that Kiev was hoping for a toughening of sanctions "because Russia doesn't understand any other language."

Russia suffered a setback in the council after it sought to discuss the clash in the Sea of Azov under an agenda item that described the incident as a violation of Russia's borders.

This was rejected in a procedural vote, with only China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan siding with Russia in its description of the incident. The council then discussed the clash under a less contentious agenda item.

APP/AFP