Donald Trump has avoided singling out Russia over its aggression against Ukraine, implying both countries were to blame for increased tensions around the Crimean peninsula.
In his first comments since Moscow’s forces shot at and seized three of Kiev’s navy vessels, the US president said: “We do not like what’s happening either way. We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out.”
He added: “I know Europe is not thrilled; they’re working on it too. We’re all working on it together.”
Speaking to reporters outside the White House before embarking on a campaign trip to Mississippi, Mr Trump was asked for “a response to Russia firing on the Ukraine”.
He replied: “Not good. We’re not happy about it at all. Not at all. We’ve let our position be known, and we’re not happy about it.”
Russia’s coastguard opened fire on two Ukrainian artillery boats and a tug in the Black Sea before seizing the vessels on Sunday.
Two of the boats were damaged and six crew were injured, according to Kiev. Moscow claimed the vessels had made an unauthorised passage through its waters, a claim seemingly undermined by distress signals sent one of the Ukrainian boats 1km outside of Russia’s waters.
On Monday, Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko announced 30 days of martial law in parts of the country, warning of the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion. Critics said he was was looking to shore up support ahead of elections next year.
World leaders including Theresa May and German chancellor Angela Merkel quickly expressed grave concern Russia's seizure of the Ukranian vessels. The UK prime minister condemned Russia’s “act of aggression”, while British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said Moscow had shown “contempt for international norms and Ukrainian sovereignty”.
Mr Trump’s more muted response came more than 24 hours later.
Mark David Simakovsky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Centre, said Vladimir Putin would be "watching Washington’s response carefully".
He said the Russian president would be "taking the measure of Trump’s likely lack of interest in Ukraine" ahead of the G20 summit later this week in Argentina, where where the two leaders are set to meet.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, was more outspoken about Russia's aggression, which she denounced as an "outrageous" and “reckless" escalation of tensions over Crimea.
She added: “In the name of international peace and security, Russia must immediately cease its unlawful conduct and respect the navigational rights and freedoms of all states.”
Ms Haley is to leave her post in January.
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