G7 declares 'unwavering support' for Ukraine over Russia standoff

Russia's use of military force against Ukrainian ships and sailors has 'no justification', the group says.

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    Ukrainian border guard boats docked in Black Sea port of Odessa in Ukraine [Yevgeny Volokin/Reuters]
    Ukrainian border guard boats docked in Black Sea port of Odessa in Ukraine [Yevgeny Volokin/Reuters]

    Kiev, Ukraine - Foreign ministers from the world's seven biggest economies, known as the Group of Seven or G7, have condemned Russia's actions in Kerch Strait as they reaffirmed their "unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

    A statement by G7 members - the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the High Representative of the European Union - on Friday said there was "no justification" for Russia's use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel.

    "We urge restraint, due respect for international law, and the prevention of any further escalation. We call on Russia to release the detained crew and vessels and refrain from impeding lawful passage through the Kerch Strait," the statement read.

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    "We, the G7, once again reiterate that ‎we do not, and will never, recognise Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and we reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.‎"

    Olexiy Makeyev, political director at Ukraine's foreign ministry, told Al Jazeera that Ukraine was defending itself "from the Russian aggression".

    "We count on the support of our American partners and we enjoy a full support also by the European Union," he said.

    Ukraine seeks global support

    The G7 statement came a day after US President Donald Trump cancelled his meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin, saying the much-anticipated talks at the G20 could not take place while Ukrainian sailors were still in captivity.

    Russia on Sunday blocked three Ukrainian military vessels from passing through the Kerch Strait on their way from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov - the shared internal waters of both countries.

    The confrontation escalated after Russia seized the three vessels and captured 24 Ukrainian crew members, who were later put under a 60-day pre-trial detention and sent to Moscow. Ukraine said the detainees were Russia's "prisoners of war".

    Russia insists the Ukrainian sailors crossed into Russian waters illegally, with Putin saying the border guards "fulfilled their military duty" in seizing the ships.

    As the threat of a "total war" grew, Kiev introduced martial law in 10 of its 27 regions for 30 days "to avoid an all-out Russian invasion".

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    On Friday, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko told Britain's Sky News broadcaster that Trump's decision to cancel the scheduled talks with Putin was an evidence of the Russian leader's "isolation".

    "After a chemical attack in Britain, after a terror attack on MH17, after the Russian aggression in the east of my country, after Syria, after all these catastrophic actions, Putin is in isolation," he said.

    Ban on Russian men entry

    Also on Friday, Ukraine barred Russian men between the age of 16 and 60 from entering the country.

    Andriy Demchenko, Ukraine's border service spokesperson, said it was not a blanket ban.

    "Russian citizens will go through an additional interview at the border and their previous visits to Ukraine will be scrutinised," he told Al Jazeera, adding that the decision to block them will be taken on a case by case basis, with necessary exceptions.

    "Exceptions might be applied to individuals with diplomatic status, transport personnel, people with temporary or permanent residency in Ukraine, and those coming for humanitarian purposes," he said.

    Poroshenko said the move would "prevent the Russian Federation from forming detachments of private armies" in Ukraine "similar to the operations they tried to carry out in 2014".

    Ukraine believes that Russian citizens and soldiers are fighting alongside Moscow-backed rebels, who in 2014 seized parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, declaring them independent from Kiev.

    Ukraine has also launched military drills in the Sea of Azov, with its soldiers role-playing the repelling of an attempted Russian landing on the coast.

    Maria Zakharova, Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson, said on Friday that Moscow would not implement a similar travel ban on Ukrainians as it would be "irrational".

    She accused Poroshenko of using martial law as a way of "raising his falling electoral ratings" in an attempt to earn points during the "latest Russophobic wave".

    The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people, including civilians.

    Follow Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter @tamila87v.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News