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EU, NATO React Coolly To Ukraine's Call For New Moves Against Russia

NATO says its ships routinely patrol and conduct exercises in the Black Sea. (file photo)

European leaders and NATO have reacted coolly to calls by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for new measures to strengthen defenses and penalize Russia over its capture of Ukrainian ships and crew off Crimea.

A NATO spokeswoman said on November 29 that the military alliance already has a strong presence in the Black Sea region where the incident occurred, and it has no plans to send warships into the Sea of Azov, which lies between Ukrainian and Russian territory, as requested by Poroshenko on November 28.

Oana Lungescu said NATO ships routinely patrol and conduct exercises in the Black Sea, with NATO ships already present in the region for 120 days this year as compared with 80 days last year.

She said several NATO members routinely conduct air policing and reconnaissance flights in the region, and that members of the alliance which border the Black Sea -- Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey -- have staged their own military deployments in the area.

"There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region," Lungescu said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuffed Poroshenko's call for increasing military pressure on Russia, saying "we can only resolve this in talks with one another because there is no military solution to all of these conflicts."

Speaking at a business forum in Berlin on November 29, Merkel said she will urge Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) meeting this weekend to immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces last weekend, and will demand that Russia keep the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov open to normal commercial traffic.

"We will take care of it. Nevertheless, we ask Ukraine as well to be sensible. We know that we can only solve things by being reasonable and holding dialogue," Merkel said.

Addressing Poroshenko's demand that the European Union impose more sanctions on Russia or increase enforcement of existing sanctions against Russia and businesses and individuals in Russia-annexed Crimea, Merkel took a non-committal approach like that adopted by the EU on November 28 when it said it would "act appropriately" as it continues to monitor the situation.

"We do not impose sanctions for the sake of sanctions, but we use sanctions to make it simply clear that countries must have the right to develop on their own, even when they are territorially close to Russia," Merkel said.

The United States and EU have imposed sanctions on Russia since it illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and started backing Ukrainian separatists in a war against the government that has killed more than 10,300 people.

'Cavalier Use Of Force'

Merkel also dismissed a U.S. and Ukrainian suggestion that the EU increase pressure on Russia by canceling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to funnel Russian gas directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea, bypassing a pipeline running through Ukraine.

She said the pipeline would go ahead, but that Germany would "ensure Ukraine remains an important transit country" for Russian gas in the future.

Even as she spoke, Ukrainian officials raised new alarms, claiming Russia was preventing Ukrainian ships from crossing through the Kerch Strait and that NATO should adopt a tit-for-tat response.

Ukraine's Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan said on Facebook that two Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, Berdyansk and Mariupol, were effectively blockaded by Russia and that 35 vessels were prevented from carrying out normal operations there.

"As long as Russia blocks free navigation, the whole civilized world should take mirror measures against Russia," Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman told reporters on the sidelines of the Berlin business conference.

Ukrainian Navy Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, the commander in chief of the Ukrainian Navy, said Kyiv would ask Turkey to close the Bosphorus Strait between the Black Sea and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, "so that the Russians pay the price for violating the norms of international law."

The Kremlin denied that Russia was blocking traffic through the Kerch Strait.

"I don't know of any restrictions at the moment. On the contrary, as far as we know the Kerch Strait is operating normally," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said delays did sometimes occur in the area as a result of bad weather. The Kerch authority said a weather advisory was posted in the area on November 29.

Meanwhile, Poroshenko praised U.S. President Donald Trump's decision not to meet with Putin at the G20 meeting in Argentina this weekend out of concern that Moscow has not returned Ukraine's ships and sailors.

"This is how great leaders act!" Poroshenko said in an English comment on Twitter.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis voiced his support for Ukraine for the first time in remarks to reporters at the Pentagon on November 29, saying Russia's actions were "a flagrant violation of international law"and "a cavalier use of force," and provided evidence that "Russia cannot be counted on right now to keep its word."

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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