Russia accused a Ukrainian diplomat on Saturday of trying to obtain classified information and ordered him to leave the country by April 22, in the latest flare-up of tensions between the two neighbours. Furthermore, two Russian warships transited the Bosphorus en route to the Black Sea on Saturday
Russia’s FSB security service earlier said Oleksandr Sosoniuk was taken into custody when he tried to access the information from Russian law enforcement databases during a meeting with a Russian citizen. “This activity is incompatible with the status of a diplomatic employee and is hostile to the Russian Federation. The foreign diplomat will be dealt with in accordance with international law,” the FSB said in a statement.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry, describing the arrest as a provocation,
said Sosoniuk was held for several hours, before returning to the country’s consulate in St Petersburg. Tensions between Moscow and Kyiv have been rising amid a build-up of Russian troops along the border and clashes in eastern Ukraine between the army and pro-Moscow separatists.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday pressed for peace negotiations.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Sosoniuk had been advised to leave Russian territory within 72 hours, starting from April 19. “The Ukrainian side will soon decide how to respond to this provocation, taking into account current practice,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said of Sosoniuk’s detention.
Two Russian warships transited the Bosphorus en route to the Black Sea on Saturday and 15 smaller vessels completed a transfer to the sea as Moscow beefs up its naval presence at a time of tense relations with the West and Ukraine. The reinforcement coincides with
a huge build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine,
something Moscow calls a temporary defensive exercise, and follows an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Russia’s relations with Washington, which cancelled the deployment of two of its own warships to the Black Sea last week after fierce Russian protests, are at a post-Cold war low.
Moscow expelled 10 U.S. diplomats on Friday
in retaliation for the expulsion of the same number of Russian diplomats from the United States over alleged malign activity. Russia has also temporarily restricted the movement of foreign warships “and other state ships” near Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, a move condemned by both Kyiv and Washington.
Two Russian Ropucha-class landing ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet, capable of carrying tanks and of delivering armour and troops during coastal assaults, transited the Bosphorus on Saturday, a Reuters reporter in Istanbul saw.
More Russian naval reinforcements in the form of two more landing ships,
this time from Russia’s Baltic Fleet, are expected to imminently transit the Bosphorus.
The RIA news agency on Saturday also reported that 15 smaller vessels from Russia’s Caspian Flotilla have completed their transfer to the Black Sea as part of an exercise. In a further sign of heightened tensions in the region, a ship carrying logistics trucks and equipment for NATO forces in Romania transited the Bosphorus on Friday evening, the same Reuters reporter saw.