Russian Federation opens fire on Ukrainian ships off coast of Crimea

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The alleged Russian attack happened as the ships retreated and went back to Odessa, Reuters reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of violating global norms with "dangerous methods that created threats and risks for the normal movement of ships in the area". Ukraine, along with almost every other country in the world, refuses to recognize that claim.

Given the lack of naval assets in the region, Black Sea NATO members Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, along with partners like Georgia, should pool their assets, Hodges said.

Ukraine's navy said the incident took place as three of its ships - two small warships and a tugboat - were heading through the strait for the port of Mariupol. The boats were towed to a nearby port.

Poroshenko, in a meeting with the country's national security council Monday, called for a "de-escalation" of the crisis around Crimea.

Ukrainian lawmakers were due to decide later on Monday whether to approve President Petro Poroshenko's call to impose martial law in Ukraine for two months.

The move may be unpopular in some quarters in Ukraine since it would restrict civil liberties and give state institutions greater power ahead of a presidential election next year which polls indicate Poroshenko would lose. Russian helicopters and warplanes were also involved in the clash.

Three Ukrainian naval ships crossed the Russian border, entering temporarily closed area of the Russian territorial waters.

The Ukrainian navy says a Russian coast guard vessel rammed a Ukrainian navy tugboat near Crimea, damaging the ship's engines and hull.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Poroshenko's initiative to introduce martial law "clearly smacks of electoral intrigues".

Ukraine's important port city of Mariupol is situated on the northern edge of the Sea of Azov and has vital access to heavy industry in the eastern part of the country.

Mr Lavrov hit out at Ukraine, saying "key norms of worldwide law have been violated".

NATO scheduled a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting at Ukraine's request to discuss the incident Monday afternoon.

And we call for calm and restraint.

"All allies expressed full support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty", he added.

The Ukrainian vessels had been trying to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea via the narrow Kerch Strait that separates Crimea from the Russian mainland.

The comments were made on Monday by Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, during a UN Security Council session.

In May, Russia opened the Crimean Bridge - an automobile bridge going across the Kerch Strait, connecting Russia's own territory to the Crimean Peninsula, which it invaded and started to occupy in 2014.

This includes the Russian-backed rebel Donetsk and Lugansk regions, whose conflict with Kiev has caused at least 10,000 deaths since 2014.

The Kerch Strait is the only passage into the Sea of Azov beyond it.

To get to the Azov Sea, the boats needed to pass the Kerch Strait, which is effectively controlled by Russian Federation.

Russian Federation fired on Ukrainian warships and injured some of their crew members on Sunday, marking a dramatic renewal of tensions between the former Soviet neighbours near the peninsula of Crimea that Russian Federation annexed four years ago.

Ukranians reacted to the maritime standoff with anger.

The incidents were followed by protests outside the Russian embassy in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, which saw activists placing paper boats on the steps of the building and setting off smoke bombs.