US, NATO Warn Russia of Potential Consequences for Attack on Ukrainian Navy

  • yelchenko-ukraine-un-1800
    Ukrainian Ambassador the the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko speaks during a security council meeting about the escalating tensions between the Ukraine and Russia at United Nations headquarters, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) -- The Associated Press
  • Three Ukrainian ships are seen as they docked after been seized ate Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Kerch, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (AP Photo)
    Three Ukrainian ships are seen as they docked after been seized ate Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Kerch, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (AP Photo)

The U.S. and NATO warned Russia on Monday of possible consequences for the attack upon and seizure of three small Ukrainian Navy ships -- two gunboats and a tugboat -- in the Black Sea. But they announced no immediate steps to counter the aggression.

At an emergency United Nations Security Council session requested by Ukraine, outgoing U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley condemned Russia's "outlaw actions" in violation of international law, but made no mention of whether the U.S. might toughen existing sanctions against Moscow.

"What we witnessed this weekend is yet another reckless Russian escalation" of what began with Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, said Haley, who will step down as U.N. ambassador at the end of the year.

By mid-afternoon Monday, there had been no response from the White House or the State Department to the crisis, but Haley said she was speaking after consulting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In similar remarks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, "Russia has to understand there are consequences for its actions," but gave no indication of what those might be.

When asked whether there would be a NATO response, he said, "We constantly assess what more we can do. At the same time, we have to work for de-escalation."

There was "no justification for the use of military force" by Russia against the Ukrainian ships, Stoltenberg said, and he called on Russia to immediately release the ships and sailors.

The U.S. Navy periodically conducts freedom of navigation operations in the Black Sea, but there were no U.S. ships in the area when the incident took place.

The attack by the Russian Coast Guard on Sunday occurred as the three Ukrainian ships attempted to pass from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait off eastern Crimea into the Sea of Azov for access to Ukrainian ports.

"All hell broke loose" as the Russian Coast Guard opened fire on the Ukrainian ships, which were awaiting assurances of safe passage through the strait, said Volodymyr Yelchenko, Ukraine's ambassador to the U.N., at the emergency session of the Security Council.

He said six Ukrainian sailors were wounded, a total of 24 were taken into custody, and the three ships were seized. Yelchenko said he has recordings of radio traffic showing how the Russian military planned and carried out the seizures.

In statements reported by state media, the Russian FSB, the Federal Security Service, dismissed Ukraine's charges and said the Ukrainian ships had carried out a "provocation" by violating Russia's territorial waters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine of "dangerous methods that created threats and risks for the normal movement of ships in the area."

The incident is likely to complicate Trump's attendance this weekend at the G20 economic summit in Argentina. He is expected to meet on the sidelines separately with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump could also cross paths in Buenos Aires with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who also is expected to attend the summit.

The president has dismissed a CIA assessment that the Crown Prince was involved in ordering the murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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