WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Russia's capture of three Ukrainian military vessels near the contested Crimea region over the weekend has drastically increased tensions between the bitter rivals.
The Ukrainian government put its forces on full combat alert in response to what it called a Russian "act of aggression" shortly after the incident on Sunday. Russia placed the blame on Ukraine for what it calls a "provocation." Several European governments were quick to support Ukraine and condemn Russia's actions, while NATO has promised to protect the integrity of the country.
Google Map - Crimea
Three Ukrainian vessels were fired upon and captured by Russian vessels as they attempted to cross the narrow Kerch strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov on Sunday. Russia's FSB security service reported that three Ukrainian sailors received non-fatal wounds during the incident and were receiving treatment.
Why is this important?
The Kerch Strait is located in Crimea, which Russian forces annexed from Ukraine four years ago. Much of the international community does not recognize Russia's claim to Crimea, which has been a major point of contention for both sides since.
Ukraine is also currently engaged with internal Russian dissident forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. These forces are widely believed to be supported by Moscow. There are also reports that unmarked Russian forces, known locally as "Little Green Men," have been actively involved in the fighting.
The ongoing conflict has been a flash point between Russia and Western powers. While Ukraine is not an official member of NATO or the European Union, Ukrainian President Petro Peroshenko has sought closer ties with the two institutions -- a major point of contention for Russia, which views Ukraine as its backyard. Europe and the U.S. have supported the Poroshenko government throughout the conflict.
Poroshenko has called for instituting martial law, in addition to the military mobilization, putting the two sides even closer to direct conflict.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg offered Poroshenko NATO's "full support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty." Several European powers, including Germany and the U.K., have also stood by Ukraine.