What's Going on With Russia and Ukraine? Protests Rage as Warships Fired On, Captured

Police stand guard at the Russian Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, late on November 25, amid smoke from a flare thrown by protesters during a rally. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian Embassy in Kiev was besieged by angry protesters overnight as Ukrainians demonstrated against Moscow's seizure of three Ukrainian ships in the waters off the disputed Crimean Peninsula.

Sunday's incident represents a major escalation of Ukrainian-Russian hostilities, with President Petro Poroshenko calling Russia's behavior "unprovoked and crazy."

About 150 demonstrators gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Ukraine's capital Sunday night, setting fire to a car belonging to the embassy while throwing smoke bombs and flares, the BBC reported.

Ukrainian security service members attempted to keep the outpouring of anger under control, extinguishing fires where they could and blocking the entrance to the diplomatic compound.

One man, Oleksiy Ryabov, explained: "We gathered here today to protest against Russians over their actions today, over shooting of our military." He added, "We are very angry. We should have severed all diplomatic relations with this country a long time ago."

Each country blames the other for Sunday's clashes in which several Ukrainian sailors were injured. The hostilities began when Ukraine's Berdyansk and Nikopol gunboats and the Yana Kapa tug attempted to sail from Odessa in the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov—access to which is controlled by the Russian-occupied Kerch Strait in Crimea.

Accusing the Ukrainians of illegally entering Russian waters, the Russian navy reportedly attempted to intercept the boats, at one point ramming the Yana Kapa. When they reached the Kerch Strait, the Ukrainian vessels found their path blocked by a Russian tanker placed under a bridge.

The Ukrainian navy said its vessels were fired upon and disabled as they tried to leave the area. Two Russian fighter jets and helicopters were deployed to the area as the three ships were seized. Ukraine claimed six of its troops had been injured in the incident, while Russia's FSB intelligence service said the number was three. Ukraine said its ships had notified the Russians of the travel plans before the ship seizure occurred.

Poroshenko will ask parliament Monday to introduce martial law, which would curtail civil liberties and hand the government emergency powers. Some observers have suggested this could be part of a plan by the president to postpone upcoming elections, which he is widely expected to lose.

According to The Guardian, Pavlo Klimkin, the foreign affairs minister, defended the proposal, claiming it was "likely possible that Russia plans further acts of aggression at seas or on the ground" and said Ukraine must be "ready." Martial law was not declared when Russian troops seized Crimea nor when separatist violence subsequently erupted in the east of the country.

There has been an increase in tensions and incidents between the two navies in the Sea of Azov, including inspections and seizures of ships, The Associated Press noted. Though the waters were designated as shared by a 2003 treaty, Russia has been extending control over the route since it annexed Crimea in March 2014.

During a meeting of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, Poroshenko said martial law would not be a precursor to a "declaration of war." The president said Ukraine "does not plan to fight anyone," although the country's defense ministry issued orders to put the military on full combat readiness.

The United Nations Security Council has arranged to hold an emergency meeting on Monday morning in response to the crisis.