Ukraine has barred Russian males between the ages of 16 and 60 from entering the country in the latest escalation of tensions.
Some Russian men would exceptionally be allowed to travel to Ukraine in “humanitarian cases,” according to the BBC, such as to attend funerals.
Petro Tsygykal, chief of the Ukrainian Border Guard Service, announced at a security meeting on Nov. 30 that the ban would be in effect while martial law is in place.
President Petro Poroshenko tweeted (in Ukrainian) that the ban was designed to prevent the formation of “private armies” in Ukraine.
Україна ввела обмеження щодо в'їзду громадян РФ чоловічої статі віком від 16 до 60, щоб РФ не формувала в Україні загони "приватних" армій, які насправді є представниками Збройних Сил РФ. Щоб не дати росіянам здійснити в Україні ті операції, які вони планували ще у 2014 році. pic.twitter.com/upJyp1JLrO
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) November 30, 2018
“Ukraine has imposed a restriction on the entry of citizens of the Russian Federation aged 16 to 60, so that the Russian Federation would not form detachments of “private” armies in Ukraine, which are actually representatives of the Russian armed forces,” Poroshenko wrote.
The Ukrainian president added that the move comes “in order not to allow the Russians to carry out the operations they had planned back in 2014.”
Poroshenko was referring to Russian-backed separatists who formed units in April 2014 to fight Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine.
He accused Putin on Nov. 29 of wanting to annex all of Ukraine and called for NATO to deploy warships to a sea shared by the two nations.
Putin, meanwhile, has accused Poroshenko of manufacturing the crisis to boost his flagging ratings ahead of next year’s elections in Ukraine.
Ukrainian lawmakers approved on Nov. 26 the imposition of a 30-day period of martial law after Poroshenko warned of the “extremely serious” threat of a Russia-led land invasion.
“Russia has been waging a hybrid war against our country for a fifth year. But with an attack on Ukrainian military boats it moved to a new stage of aggression,” Poroshenko said.
Martial law is now in effect in 10 regions of Ukraine, including those bordering Russia.
The move came after Russian forces seized three Ukrainian vessels and 24 sailors in the Black Sea over the weekend, sparking an international crisis.
Ukraine accused Russia of violating international law, while Russia argued the vessels violated its territorial waters.
It is the most dangerous clash at sea off Crimea since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014.
President Donald Trump said he was working with European leaders to remedy the situation.
“We do not like what’s happening either way and, hopefully, it will get straightened out,” Trump said, according to ABC news.
Trump also recently canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was scheduled to take place during the G-20 summit in Argentina, citing Russia’s ongoing detention of Ukrainian ships and sailors.
“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 29. “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian vessels “a dangerous escalation and a violation of international law” and called for restraint from both countries.
“The United States condemns this aggressive Russian action. We call on Russia to return to Ukraine its vessels and detained crew members, and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Poroshenko told the German news service Bild he wanted NATO to deploy warships to the Sea of Azov. Ukraine isn’t a member of the United States-led military alliance.
NATO, which has condemned Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian ships, said that the alliance’s ships routinely patrol and conduct exercises in the Black Sea, that allies engage in regular air policing and reconnaissance flights there, and that the alliance has stepped up its activities since Moscow annexed Crimea.
“Three NATO members—Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey—are littoral states with their own national capabilities deployed in the Black Sea region,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. “So there is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region.”
The prospect of NATO warships heading to the Sea of Azov, which is separated from the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait, seems unlikely—it’s shallow, access to it is controlled by Russia, and the Kremlin would likely view any attempt by the Atlantic alliance to deploy there as a hostile act.
There has been growing hostility between Ukraine and Russia since Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Russia has also supported separatists in Ukraine’s east with clandestine dispatches of troops and weapons. Fighting there has killed at least 10,000 people since 2014 but eased somewhat after a 2015 truce.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.