Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of planning to rebuild “the old Russian Empire” in the midst of tensions between Kiev and Moscow over the seizure of three Ukrainian vessels in Russia’s territorial waters in the Sea of Azov.

Poroshenko made the accusation in interviews with German media on Thursday.

Russia’s naval forces intercepted and seized three Ukrainian vessels after they illegally entered Russian waters off the coast of Crimea in the Sea of Azov on Sunday. The Kremlin said the seizure of the ships was lawful because they were trespassing on Russia’s territorial waters off the coast of Crimea, which rejoined Russia in a 2014 referendum.

Kiev and its Western allies, however, have been attempting to portray that as an instance of Russian “aggression.”

“Putin wants to bring back the old Russian Empire. Crimea, Donbass… he wants the whole country,” Poroshenko claimed in remarks made to the Bild daily, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper. “As a Russian emperor, as he sees himself, his empire cannot function without Ukraine, he sees us as a colony.”

The Ukrainian president also sought to drum up support from NATO states in the standoff with Russia, calling on Germany and the US-led alliance to send naval vessels to the Sea of Azov to protect Ukraine and its interests.

“Germany is one of our closest allies, and we hope that states within NATO are now ready to relocate naval ships to the Sea of Azov in order to assist Ukraine and provide security,” Poroshenko told the German paper, claiming that Russia “wants nothing less than to occupy the sea.”

Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

Poroshenko has introduced martial law in parts of Ukraine, something President Putin has voiced “serious concerns” about.

PressTV-Putin voices ‘serious concern’ over martial law in UkraineRussian President Vladimir Putin voices “serious concern” over Ukraine’s recent move to impose martial law in the country.

Putin has defended his forces’ actions in seizing the three Ukrainian ships last weekend in the Sea of Azov, saying, “They were fulfilling their military duty. They were fulfilling their lawful functions in protecting Russia’s borders.”

Russia, as well as outside observers, have said Poroshenko is attempting to provoke anti-Russia sentiments ahead of elections in March, which he seeks to contest.

PressTV-‘Ukraine pres. sent ships into Russian territory on purpose’Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, facing elections next March, deliberately sent Ukrainian ships into Russian territory in an attempt to provoke Russia and stir anti-Russia sentiments, says a commentator.

There have been some calls among EU officials for tougher sanctions against Russia following the Azov Sea incident.

Russia is already under sanctions by the West over the allegation that it supports ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s eastern regions, or the Donbass, where the Ukrainian military has launched a crackdown. Moscow denies that allegation.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the bloc “expects Russia to ensure unhindered and free passage through the Kerch Strait to and from the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law.”

Ukraine calls on Germany to halt gas pipeline project with Russia

In a separate interview with the Funke newspaper, Poroshenko called on Germany — the largest and wealthiest buyer of Moscow’s gas — to halt the building of an undersea gas pipeline that would allow Russia to supply Germany directly, bypassing Ukraine and the Baltic states.

“We need a strong, resolute, and clear reaction to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told the paper. “That also means stopping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.”

Merkel’s government has faced criticism over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; Berlin, however, regards the pipeline — which is being built by Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom — as a private investment and a purely economic project.


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