KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine got a valuable boost Thursday from its Western allies when ambassadors from the U.S. and Britain both condemned Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian navy vessels and pledged their countries would do more to build up Ukraine’s naval forces.
“We call on Russia to de-escalate the tension that Russia has created,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said in a speech before a packed hall at the International Maritime Security Conference here in Ukraine’s capital.
In a pair of tweets hours later, citing the incident, President Donald Trump said he is canceling a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.
“I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” Trump said in the tweet.
Judith Gough, the British ambassador to Ukraine, clearly denounced Russia for Sunday’s naval confrontation during her own remarks Thursday.
“We condemn Russian aggression in the Black Sea,” Gough said. “We’re absolutely clear that this is a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Russian ships fired on and captured the three Ukrainian navy vessels Sunday as they approached the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. Russian forces reportedly took 24 Ukrainian crew members prisoner and already have tried some as criminals.
The two Ukrainian artillery boats and a tugboat were in transit from Odesa to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, Ukrainian agencies reported.
The maritime security conference Thursday had been planned for months. Its timing only days after the Black Sea confrontation, however, transformed the event into a venue for the American and British ambassadors to make diplomatic statements that surely would be heard in Moscow.
What otherwise would have been a largely academic exercise turned into a high-stakes media event.
The conference room was standing room only, packed with journalists as well as uniformed navy officers from Ukraine and NATO countries. A solid row of television cameras lined the back galley.
Before this audience, Yovanovitch called Russia’s attack on Ukrainian navy vessels a “gross violation of international law” and “a dangerous escalation.”
“Let there be no confusion,” the U.S. ambassador said, “the facts are clear: The Ukrainian ships sailed from one Ukrainian port to another Ukrainian port … as is their right.”
The United Kingdom is “committed” to the “development of Ukraine’s navy,” Gough said, adding that the Royal Navy already has pledged to deploy a ship to the Black Sea next year.
“We will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine against Russian aggression,” Yovanovitch said, adding that the U.S. is “currently examining different ways” to help Ukraine develop its navy.
For the most part, the British and American statements of support resonated among Ukraine’s soldiers and war veterans.
“Any support will be very important to us. Especially military assistance,” Andrey Kobzar, 41, a Ukrainian army combat veteran of the war in the Donbas region, told The Daily Signal.
“The events of recent days show the determination of Russia to paralyze our maritime trade,” Kobzar said. “Thus, a terrible and irreparable blow will be dealt to our economy. Without a modern fleet, the task of protecting free trade shipping cannot be solved. “
Still, some Ukrainian soldiers and veterans said the U.S. and its Western allies should do more to help Ukraine.
Vlad Gryshchenko, a senior sergeant in Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade, said Ukrainian troops deserve more support from the West because they have been on the front lines of a war that threatens all of Europe.
“We protect ourselves and Europe,” Gryshchenko said.