Ukraine bans Russian men from entering the country

Image: An armed officer of Ukraine's State Border Guard Service addresses a
An officer with Ukraine's State Border Guard Service addresses a driver at a checkpoint on the Russian border on Wednesday. Copyright Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy
By Yuliya Talmazan with NBC News World News
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President Petro Poroshenko imposed martial law this week amid fears of a potential Russian invasion after three naval ships were seized in the Sea of Azov.


Russian men between the ages of 16 and 60 have been barred entering Ukraine after long-simmering tensions between the countries escalated into a clash on the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted Friday that restrictions on Russian nationals were taken in order to prevent the formation of "private armies which in reality are representatives of Russian armed forces."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters Friday that Moscow would not reciprocate and impose similar restrictions on Ukrainian men.


Russian ships opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew members in the Sea of Azov off the coast of Crimea on Sunday. Ukraine says the attack occurred in international waters.

Amid fears of a Russian invasion, Poroshenko introduced martial law on Tuesday for up 30 days in parts of the country deemed most vulnerable to a potential attack.

Martial law allows the president to impose restrictions, including limits on the movement of foreigners.

It also means Poroshenko can ban peaceful public protests and regulate the media. No elections can be held when it martial law is in place, but Poroshenko insists Ukrainians will be be able to vote as planned in March.

The seizure of Ukrainian ships on Sunday was the latest rift between the neighbors. Tensions were already high after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the ongoing armed conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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When Russia and Ukraine were relatively friendly, they shared the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait as part of a 2003 agreement.

But Moscow's annexation of Crimea gave it control of not just one but both sides of the strait. Most countries in the world, including the U.S. and almost all of Europe, say Russia's annexation of Crimea is an illegal occupation.

Although the 2003 agreement still stands in theory, Russia now demands that all vessels, including those from Ukraine, to request permission before they pass through.


In May, it opened the $3.69 billion Crimea Bridge, cementing its grip on this crucial bottleneck. Independent observers have pointed out that the bridge's span is lower than international standards, putting a permanent cap on the size of ship able to enter the Azov.

The move has caused huge delays in recent months, leading to claims Russia is trying to blockade Ukraine's ports and transform the Azov into a de facto Russian lake.

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Some Western critics say this is all part of the Kremlin's tactic of "creeping annexation," a ploy to subtly recoup Soviet-era territory.


Ukraine is demanding that Russia release crew members of the seized ships. On Friday, the Tass news agency reported that the commanders of the three Ukrainian vessels were being transferred to Moscow for interrogation. The other 21 remained in custody in Crimea.

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