Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, of orchestrating a naval "provocation" in the Black Sea to boost his popularity ratings.
Tensions have been rising between the two countries after Russia on Sunday seized two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels, a tugboat and some 23 crew members, which it said had illegally entered its territorial waters
Speaking at a financial forum in Moscow, Putin said the Ukrainian vessels had clearly been in the wrong, as he accused Poroshenko of orchestrating the crisis to boost his ratings ahead of elections next year.
“It was without doubt a provocation,” he said in his first public comments on the issue.
“It was organised by the president ahead of the elections. The president is in fifth place ratings-wise and therefore had to do something. It was used as a pretext to introduce martial law.”
Ukraine this week introduced martial law for 30 days in areas of the country it deems most vulnerable to an attack from Russia.
NATO called for calm following the incident, while the European Union urged Kyiv and Moscow to “act with utmost restraint to de-escalate” tensions in the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, on Monday described Russia's seizure of the vessels as an "outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory".
The fallout risks derailing a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Putin at a G20 summit in Argentina later this week.