MOSCOW/KERCH, Crimea—President Vladimir Putin has shrugged off a threat from President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with him because of Moscow’s seizure of three Ukrainian navy ships, and accused Ukraine’s president of orchestrating the crisis.
Russia seized the Ukrainian vessels and their crews Nov. 25 near Crimea, the Ukrainian region annexed by Moscow in 2014, over what it said was the ships’ illegal entry into Russian waters, which Ukraine denies.
The episode has raised fears in the West of a wider conflict between the two countries, and Trump said Nov. 27 that he might cancel a planned meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Argentina later this week as a response to “aggression.”
Some of Ukraine’s Western allies have also raised the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Russia over the episode, which could deliver a blow to the Russian economy.
But Putin, in his first public comments on the Black Sea incident, said that the Ukrainian vessels had clearly been in the wrong, dismissed the clash as a minor border issue, and accused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of having orchestrated the crisis in order to boost his dire ratings. Putin said he still hoped to meet Trump at the G-20, the Kremlin said the meeting was still being prepared and Washington hadn’t informed Moscow it was off.
“It was without doubt a provocation,” Putin told a financial forum in Moscow of the incident. “It was organized by the president ahead of the elections. The president is in fifth place ratings-wise and therefore had to do something. It was used as a pretext to introduce martial law.”
Putin said the West was willing to forgive Ukrainian politicians because it bought into their anti-Russian narrative.
Kiev has introduced martial law in parts of the country, saying it fears a possible Russian invasion.
By Andrew Osborn & Anton Zverev