Orthodox priests blesses Russian missiles in Crimea amid heightened tensions with Ukraine 

An Orthodox priest blessed Russian missiles as part of a deployment ceremony for the country's anti-aircraft launchers yesterday

An Orthodox priest blessed Russian missiles as part of a deployment ceremony for the country’s anti-aircraft launchers yesterday, which were seen amassing close to the Ukrainian border yesterday.

Triumf surface-to-air missile systems – part of an anti-aircraft military unit of the Russian Air Force and the Russian Southern Military District – entered combat duty near the Crimean town of Dzhankoy, just 12 miles away from Ukraine on Thursday night.

It is common for Orthodox priests in Russia to bless military equipment before use; in January 2017 a bishop sanctified the S-400 Triumf medium and long-range surface-to-air missile system at the base of the Russian Southern Military District and in 2016 a similar event occured when the Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter aircraft joined the Russian Navy Baltic Fleet for the first time.

An Orthodox priest blessed Russian missiles as part of a deployment ceremony for the country's anti-aircraft launchers yesterday

An Orthodox priest blessed Russian missiles as part of a deployment ceremony for the country’s anti-aircraft launchers yesterday

It is customary for Orthodox priests in Russia to bless military equipment before its use

It is customary for Orthodox priests in Russia to bless military equipment before its use

Last month, the Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was consecrated by a churchman in preparation for its space launch.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, has this week warned that Russian tanks are lining up along the border and taken the step of banning all Russian men of military age from entering the country.

Poroshenko said he has evidence that Russian tanks are lining up just 11 miles (18km) from the border, close to where Russia stores its ammunition and multi-rocket launch systems, Sky News reports.

Members of the armed forces in Crimea during the ceremony of deployment for the S-400 Triumph missile system

Members of the armed forces in Crimea during the ceremony of deployment for the S-400 Triumph missile system

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, has this week warned that Russian tanks are lining up along the border and taken the step of banning all Russian men of military age from entering the country

The Fourth Battalion of S-400 Triumph air defence missile system assumes combat duty in Crimea, November 29, 2018

The Fourth Battalion of S-400 Triumph air defence missile system assumes combat duty in Crimea, November 29, 2018

Poroshenko made the claim just hours after accusing President Vladimir Putin of wanting to annex his whole country.

‘This is the tank base just 18km from our border, this was happening in September, October, and now,’ Poroshenko told Sky.

‘This is 18km from my border, this is the same warehouse where they have their ammunition, the same where they have multi-rocket launch systems, we should be prepared to protect my country.’

He added: ‘If the whole world has no reason to trust Putin, Ukraine definitely doesn’t have a reason to go with him.’

S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems as part of an anti-aircraft military unit near the Crimean town of Dzhankoy on Thursday night

S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems as part of an anti-aircraft military unit near the Crimean town of Dzhankoy on Thursday night

The unit was seen entering combat duty near the Crimean town of Dzhankoy 12 miles away from the Ukrainian border

The unit was seen entering combat duty near the Crimean town of Dzhankoy 12 miles away from the Ukrainian border

President Vladimir Putin departing his plane upon arrival at Ezeiza International airport in Buenos Aires for the G20 summit today

President Vladimir Putin departing his plane upon arrival at Ezeiza International airport in Buenos Aires for the G20 summit today

President Poroshenko also said the country has barred Russian men between 16 and 60 from travelling to the country.

The move comes as the long-simmering conflict between the two nations escalated in the Black Sea on Sunday when Russian border guards opened fire on and captured three Ukrainian vessels and their 24-member crew.

Poroshenko tweeted today that the restrictions on Russian travellers have been taken in order to prevent the Russians from forming ‘private armies’ fighting on Ukrainian soil.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Poroshenko’s request is ‘clearly aimed at provoking further tensions’ and driven by the Ukrainian leader’s ‘electoral and domestic policy motives.’

Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews on Sunday near the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, over what it said was their illegal entry into Russian waters – a charge Ukraine strongly refutes.

The Russian coast guard fired on and seized the three Ukrainian vessels that sought to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait.

Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko has warned that Russian tanks are massing along the border

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko has warned that Russian tanks are massing along the border

He showed Sky News what he claimed is evidence that Russian tanks are lining up along the border, close to where Russia stores its ammunition

He showed Sky News what he claimed is evidence that Russian tanks are lining up along the border, close to where Russia stores its ammunition

Poroshenko claimed to have evidence that Russian tanks are lining up just 11 miles (18km) from the Ukrainian border

Poroshenko claimed to have evidence that Russian tanks are lining up just 11 miles (18km) from the Ukrainian border

Ukraine insisted that its vessels were operating in line with international maritime rules, while Russia said they had failed to get permission to pass.

The G7 foreign ministers’ today released a statement on the recent events near Kerch Strait.

‘We, the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, express our utmost concern about Russia’s actions against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait and surrounding waters, ‎which have dangerously raised tensions,’ the statement said.

‘There is no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel.

‘We urge restraint, due respect for international law, and the prevention of any further escalation. We call on Russia to release the detained crew and vessels and refrain from impeding lawful passage through the Kerch Strait.

‘We, the G7, once again reiterate that ‎we do not, and will never, recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and we reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.‎’

In interviews with Germany’s Bild newspaper and the Funke newspaper group on Thursday, Poroshenko rejected Russia’s charge that the vessels’ entry into the Sea of Azov – a body of water shared by Ukraine and Russia on which the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk sit – was a provocation.

‘Don’t believe Putin’s lies,’ he told Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling paper, comparing Russia’s protestations of innocence in the affair to Moscow’s 2014 denial that it had soldiers in Crimea even as they moved to annex it.

‘Putin wants the old Russian empire back,’ he said.

‘Crimea, Donbass, the whole country. As Russian Tsar, as he sees himself, his empire can’t function without Ukraine. He sees us as his colony.’

Putin as he gets into a waiting car at an airport in Buenos Aires. The G20 powers open two days of summit talks on today after a stormy build-up dominated by tensions with Russia and US

Putin as he gets into a waiting car at an airport in Buenos Aires. The G20 powers open two days of summit talks on today after a stormy build-up dominated by tensions with Russia and US

Soldiers of a Triumf surface-to-air missile system crew f the Russian Air Force and the Russian Southern Military District

Soldiers of a Triumf surface-to-air missile system crew f the Russian Air Force and the Russian Southern Military District

A serviceman walks near a Ukrainian military helicopter flying during military drills near Urzuf village not far from the city of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine yesterday

A serviceman walks near a Ukrainian military helicopter flying during military drills near Urzuf village not far from the city of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine yesterday

He added that there needs to be increased pressure on Moscow, including stopping the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is being built under the Baltic Sea and would bypass Ukraine to deliver gas directly to Germany.

Poroshenko said the government will impose unspecified restrictions on Russian citizens in response to the seizure of the three Ukrainian vessels and their crews.

He that the one-month period of martial law introduced this week in Ukraine wouldn’t restrict travel, cash withdrawals or currency purchases by Ukrainians but Russians will face some constraints.

The Ukrainian leader tweeted Thursday that ‘there will be restrictions regarding Russian citizens, which I believe are quite justified.’ He did not elaborate.

The seizure of the navy vessels drove tensions to their highest since 2015, when Moscow-backed rebels rose against the Kiev government in the eastern Donbass region, sparking a war that has killed tens of thousands.

A Tupolev Tu-144AK airliner flying by, an S-400 Triumf missile system on standby

A Tupolev Tu-144AK airliner flying by, an S-400 Triumf missile system on standby

President Petro Poroshenko called for the stationing of NATO vessels in the Sea of Azov and Germany to halt the building of an undersea gas pipeline that would allow Russia to supply Germany directly, cutting out Ukraine

President Petro Poroshenko called for the stationing of NATO vessels in the Sea of Azov and Germany to halt the building of an undersea gas pipeline that would allow Russia to supply Germany directly, cutting out Ukraine

Ukraine's president accused Russia's Vladimir Putin of wanting to annex his whole country

Ukraine’s president accused Russia’s Vladimir Putin of wanting to annex his whole country

A Russian government-appointed ombudswoman said on Friday the three commanders of the Ukrainian vessels captured near the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula last weekend are being transferred to Moscow.

The Tass news agency on Friday quoted Russian government-appointed ombudswoman Lyudmila Lubina as saying that the vessels’ commanders are being transferred to Moscow for interrogation. The other 21 remain in custody in Crimea.

A Crimea court earlier this week ruled to keep the Ukrainian seamen behind bars for two months pending the investigation.

Poroshenko called on Germany, the largest and wealthiest buyer of Moscow’s gas exports, to halt the building of an undersea gas pipeline that would allow Russia to supply Germany directly, cutting out Ukraine.

‘We need a strong, resolute and clear reaction to Russia’s aggressive behaviour,’ he told Funke. ‘That also means stopping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.’

Putin is welcomed by Argentina's President Mauricio Macri as he arrives for the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires

Putin is welcomed by Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri as he arrives for the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires

A Ukraine Border Security Force soldier in the machine-gun turret of an armoured vehicle on a patrol of the coast of the Azov Sea near Mariupol Port

A Ukraine Border Security Force soldier in the machine-gun turret of an armoured vehicle on a patrol of the coast of the Azov Sea near Mariupol Port

Ukraine's Border Security Force soldiers patrol the coast of the Azov Sea near Mariupol Port on Thursday

Ukraine’s Border Security Force soldiers patrol the coast of the Azov Sea near Mariupol Port on Thursday

Germany regards the pipeline, which is being built by Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, as a private investment. But Merkel recently acknowledged its ‘political dimensions’ and said Ukraine must continue to be a conduit for Russian gas sold to western Europe.

German officials said on Wednesday that their position on the pipeline remained unchanged and that talk of tighter sanctions against Moscow, demanded by the United States and many European politicians, was ‘premature’.

Poroshenko also called for the stationing of NATO vessels in the Sea of Azov.

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