KYIV, Oct. 1 - Ukraine will build a military base on the Azov Sea and has sent more forces to the area to counter a worsening Russian threat, chief military commander said Monday.
Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff, said Russia had moved beyond covert fighting in the Donbass region to nakedly aggressive actions against ships sailing to Ukrainian ports, Reuters reported.
“All those actions that are being taken in the Azov Sea region, are elements of building up our presence in this region for an adequate response to possible provocations by the Russian Federation,” Muzhenko said.
He said Ukraine had already deployed more air, land, sea and artillery forces to the area.
The Azov Sea, a strategic arm of the Black Sea where Russia and Ukraine share the coastline, has become a flashpoint this year. Ukraine says Russia is preventing scores of vessels from reaching Ukrainian ports through spurious inspections and detentions.
Washington too has called on Russia to stop “harassing” ships, and supplied Ukraine with U.S. patrol boats. Moscow in turn says Ukraine might try to blockade Crimea.
Muzhenko ruled out suggestions that Ukrainian navy ships would escort commercial vessels across the sea to prevent them being stopped by Russian ships.
Russia says its checks on shipping are lawful.
“Russian checks on ships are intended exclusively to ensure security in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait, they don’t contradict international law as it applies to this maritime area,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, told a news conference on Sept. 22.
Washington has continued to support Ukraine under the Donald Trump administration, including supplying Javelin missiles to Ukraine, a step President Barack Obama shied away from.
Muzhenko said the Javelins had been tested and his troops trained to use them, but they had not been deployed in battle yet. Asked whether Ukraine wanted to buy the U.S. Patriot air defense system, he said various options were being considered. (rt/ez)