Russia to deploy new missiles in Crimea as tension rises with Ukraine
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The Russian military announced on Wednesday it was deploying new missiles as part of its plan to boost defences in the occupied peninsula of Crimea in the wake of a fresh flare-up of tension with Ukraine.
The Interfax news agency quoted Col. Vadim Astafyev, the top Defence Ministry official in Russia's south, as saying that Russia will add one S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to the three already deployed in the peninsula.
Russia and Ukraine are still reeling from their first overt military confrontation since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a clash Sunday in the Kerch Strait near Russia-occupied Crimea. Russian border guards fired on three Ukrainian ships, seizing them and their 24 crewmembers. Ukraine insists its vessels were operating in line with international maritime rules, while Russia says they had failed to get permission to pass through a Russia-controlled area.
The strait links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov and is where Russia has built a long new bridge – the only land link between Crimea and the Russian mainland.
Putin blames Ukrainian 'provocation'
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday broke his silence on the maritime clash, blaming it on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's desire to get re-elected.
"That was a provocation which was certainly organised by the sitting officials, including the president," ahead of Ukraine's presidential election in March, Putin said. The Kremlin added that Putin rebuffed a request by Poroshenko to speak by phone about Moscow’s seizure of the Ukrainian navy ships and their crews.
Poroshenko repsonded in unequivocal terms Thursday.
"Don't believe Putin's lies," he told Germany's Bild newspaper, comparing Russia's protestations of innocence in the affair to Moscow's 2014 denial that it had soldiers in Crimea even as they moved to annex it.
"Putin wants the old Russian empire back," he said. "Crimea, Donbass, the whole country. As Russian Tsar, as he sees himself, his empire can't function without Ukraine. He sees us as his colony."
Poroshenko calls on NATO to send ships to Sea of Azov
Ukraine has released what it said was the exact location where its ships were fired on Sunday by Russia, showing that they were in international waters approaching Kerch Strait from the west, not from the east, as Putin suggested.
Poroshenko called on NATO members including Germany to send naval vessels to the Sea of Azov to back his country in the standoff.
"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 Bild.
Ukraine's president on Wednesday signed an act imposing martial law for 30 days in 10 regions bordering Russia, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)