The United Nations on Monday urged both Russia and Ukraine to step away from further confrontation at sea. Briefing the Security Council, which met in the wake of Sunday's confrontation between vessels from the two neighboring countries off the coast of Crimea, political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo urged them "to refrain from any ratcheting up of actions or rhetoric".
An "immediate de-escalation" of tensions is needed in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, she said, underlining the importance of "earnest attempts" to find a peaceful resolution to years of simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Xinhua reported.
"(We) remind both (Russia and Ukraine) of the need to contain this incident so as to prevent a serious escalation that may have unforeseen consequences," she said.
The UN plea comes at a time when both nations have been spiralling down towards serious conflict. Even as the relations between Russia and Ukraine have been deteriorating since Crimea was incorporated into Russia in March 2014 following a local referendum that was rejected by Kiev and Western countries, the fresh blow to the ties came on Sunday when Russia seized three naval vessels of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Navy said that Russian forces opened fire and seized three Ukrainian ships near the Kerch Strait, which separates the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, injuring six Ukrainian military sailors.
Russia's Federal Security Service said that the Ukrainian ships breached the Russian border, and conducted dangerous maneuvers in spite of Russia's warning. The Ukrainian Navy said it had informed Russia in advance about the passage of its vessels from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait, calling Russia's actions an "act of aggression".
In reaction, the Ukrainian parliament on Monday supported a bill imposing martial law in certain regions of the country for 30 days starting 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
According to a statement on the parliament's website, the legislation, which enforces the presidential decree on the martial law, was supported by 276 votes in favor, surpassing the minimum of 226 required.
Earlier Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree to put into force a decision of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) on imposing the martial law in the country for 60 days due to the tensions with Russia in the Sea of Azov.
However, later Poroshenko said he had decided to reduce the time under martial law to 30 days.
Besides, Poroshenko said that the law will be imposed not across the whole country, but only in the regions bordering Russia; Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed; and the regions located on the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
The Ukrainian president emphasised that "martial law does not mean the declaration of war", but a step towards strengthening Ukraine's defense.
Meanwhile, Oleksandr Turchynov, head of the NSDC, said that the martial law envisages imposing "temporary restriction of citizens' rights and freedoms".
According to the Ukrainian media, the martial law regime stipulates for a partial mobilisation of troops, curfew, a ban on demonstrations, restrictions on freedom of movement, control over the media activities, seizure of property for the needs of the defense ministry, among other measures.
(With inputs from IANS)