German chancellor Angela Merkel aired her concerns with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit over a blockade that targets Ukraine, then ripped Russian aggression at the gathering Saturday.
Her meeting with Putin in Argentina took place a week after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and 24 crew members in a clash in the Kerch Strait, an important shipping channel that links the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
“Free shipping into the Sea of Azov to the Ukrainian coast and harbors must be ensured,” Merkel said to reporters after the meeting. “All sorts of aggression has to be avoided.”
Ukrainian officials say Russia has now imposed a de facto blockade on its two main ports in the Sea of Azov by allowing only ships destined for Russian ports through the strait.
Merkel also brought up the escalating conflict with President Trump during a private meeting the two had in Buenos Aires.
Trump canceled a planned two-hour sitdown with Putin at G-20, and called for Russia to return the ships and sailors.
“The president wanted to send a clear, unambiguous message,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN. “The Russians behaved in a way that is deeply inconsistent with international law.”
Trump had a brief face-to-face with Putin at dinner Friday night. It is not clear what the two leaders discussed.
Putin said at the summit that there’s been no discussion with Ukraine about releasing the sailors or the ships.
Russia claimed the ships it seized violated its territorial waters, but the strait is considered shared under a 2003 agreement.
“The Kremlin is further testing the strength of the global order,” Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko said in a speech at a military event earlier Saturday.
He renewed concerns about a Russian buildup of forces and weapons along its border.
Russia now has more than 80,000 troops massed there, along with hundreds of tanks, aircraft and combat vehicles, Poroshenko claimed.
Germany and France have been trying to mediate the dispute. Merkel’s spokesman said Putin agreed that the four countries should hold additional talks.
Separately, the Ukrainian border service said Saturday that about 100 Russian citizens had been denied entry since the border restrictions went into effect Friday.
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