Merkel declines to come to Ukraine’s aid amid Russian military standoff

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, on Thursday declined to come to Ukraine’s aid after its president appealed for help to block Russian aggression.

Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, appealed to Nato on Thursday, asking for naval support in the standoff with Russia and accused the neighboring state of wanting to annex the Sea of Azov.

Speaking to German newspaper Bild, Mr Poroshenko called Germany one of Ukraine’s “closest allies” and urged it – together with other Nato countries – to deploy naval ships to aid his country after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels near Crimea on Sunday.

“We simply cannot accept this aggressive policy, originally there was Crimea, then eastern Ukraine, now the Sea of Azov,” he said in the interview.

Mrs Merkel blamed Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, for the tensions, but warned that there is “no military solution” to the conflict in the region.

Crimean bridge map

“We ask the Ukrainian side too to be sensible because we know that we can only solve things through being reasonable and through dialogue," Mrs Merkel said during her opening speech at the annual German-Ukrainian economic forum in Berlin on Thursday. 

Nato, which Ukraine hopes to join, called on Russia to release the captured vessels and the crews, but didn’t say it had any plans to send its naval forces to the region.

The incident over the weekend marked the most serious escalation of the conflict between the states since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Russian officials insist that the Ukrainian vessels breached its border on Sunday morning and later attempted dangerous manoeuvres in Russia’s territorial waters.

Mr Putin defended Russia’s actions on Wednesday, accusing Mr Poroshenko of organising a provocation in an attempt to boost his poor ratings ahead of the next year’s presidential elections. Recent polls suggest that roughly 10 percent of the electorate would vote for the incumbent president.

Ukraine has denied any wrongdoing and imposed martial law in the country’s regions bordering Russia for 30 days.

Mr Poroshenko called on Europe to introduce new sanctions and re-think Nord Stream-2, an undersea pipeline project that would increase Russia’s gas direct supplies to Germany. 

Ukraine, which currently earns transit fees from piping Russian gas to Europe, has objected the project.

Ihor Voronchenko, the Ukrainian Navy Commander, said Thursday that Kiev would also seek a ban on passage for Russian vessels through the Bosporus Strait.

Meanwhile, Russian state media reported that the country’s Black Sea Fleet had deployed a battalion of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, the fourth one, to north Crimea, and also plans to build a new missile early-warning radar station there.

Crimean courts put all 24 captured Ukrainian servicemen suspected of breaching the Russian state border under pre-trial two-month arrest.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, on Thursday accused Russia of imposing a de facto blockade on two Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov by preventing ships from leaving and entering the sea via the Kerch Strait. 

The Kremlin’s spokesman denied any restrictions for shipping in the area, saying that no problems had been reported.

Mrs Merkel said she was going to discuss the crisis with Putin during the G20 summit, which starts Friday in Argentina.