President Petro Poroshenko is said to be fearful that President Vladimir Putin is planning his next show of strength and has called on Nato to send in warships as tensions escalate between the two countries. Kiev is worried about the deepening political crisis and believes Putin has set his sights on the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk. This would create a land corridor between Crimea, annexed by Moscow in March 2014, and Donetsk and Luhansk, the eastern regions which have been partly controlled by Russian-backed separatists since the conflict began in May 2014.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the rumours as “absurd” and described them as “another attempt to generate tension”.
Last week Ukraine’s parliament backed Poroshenko’s plan to impose martial law in much of the country, barring entry of all Russian men aged between 16 and 60.
The leader said the 30-day order was needed to prevent Russia from further destabilizing the country and he is said to be considering further action.
Putin expressed “seriously concern” over the decision.
Poroshenko said some reservists will be called up for training as part of the order and some military units will be redeployed.
He said: “Ukraine is taking its own steps in response to the threat of a large-scale Russian invasion.”
Russian troops and tanks have been deployed along the border with Ukraine, according to Poroshenko, which he believes signals possible plans for a ground offensive.
It comes a week after a confrontation in the Sea of Azov which saw Russia seize three Ukrainian naval ships and their 23 crew members in waters off Crimea,
On Monday, the speaker of Russia’s lower house Vyacheslav Volodin said he plans to award medals to the sailors who fired upon and seized the vessels.
The country’s third most senior politician said the crews acted “faultlessly and courageously” to thwart what he described as a violation of Russia’s maritime borer in the Black Sea.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people in four-and-a-half years.
Political and religious tensions between the two nations further escalated this week when police and security services searched the homes of Ukrainian priests who have declared their allegiance to the Russian branch of the Orthodox church.