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Ukraine foreign minister demands sailors’ release by Russia

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin arrives for the 25th Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, ministerial council meeting, in Milan, Italy, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukraine’s foreign minister on Thursday reiterated his country’s call for the release and safe return of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by Russian military forces in the Black Sea.

Pavlo Klimkin told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that even though Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 has dominated the group’s agenda for the past five years, Russia “has not pulled back.”

Instead, he said, it has extended operations into the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The long-simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine that started with Russia’s annexation of Crimea spilled into the open on Nov. 25 when the Russian coast guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded to the standoff by introducing martial law for 30 days, something Ukraine hadn’t done even after Crimea’s annexation and amid large-scale fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in 2014-2015.

As part of martial law, Ukraine has beefed up its forces on the border with Russia, called up reservists for training and barred entry to all Russian males aged between 16 and 60.

Poroshenko in an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Thursday called on the West to respond to what he described as Russia’s aggression by imposing additional sanctions on the Kremlin.

“Our common task is not to allow Russia to spill its aggression into the Sea of Azov,” he said. “While the West is speaking, Mr. Putin is acting. It is time to respond.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to adopt a bill that unilaterally doubles the extent of Ukraine’s territorial waters to 24 miles. Ukrainian authorities say this will allow the coast guard and the navy to be more efficient in patrolling the area to prevent military threats and smuggling.

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