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Russia rejects criticism of navigation limits off Crimea

MOSCOW - Russia insisted Tuesday that it has the right to restrict foreign naval ships’ movement off Crimea, rejecting Ukrainian complaints and Western criticism.

Ukraine last week protested the Russian move to close broad areas of the Black Sea near Crimea to foreign navy ships and state vessels until November. The U.S. also aired its concern Monday, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying “this represents yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine.”

Price noted that the move “is particularly troubling amid credible reports of Russian troop buildup in occupied Crimea and around Ukraine’s borders.”

The European Union also voiced concern.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov charged that the restrictions on foreign naval ships were in line with international agreements, arguing that it’s common practice to limit areas where military drills are held. He emphasized in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that the restrictions wouldn’t interfere with commercial shipping.

In a separate move, Russia on Tuesday also announced restrictions on flights near Crimea for five days starting Tuesday.

The Russian military holds massive Black Sea manoeuvrs this week.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued that such airspace closures are common international practice.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 after the country’s former Russia-friendly president was driven from power by protests. Moscow then threw its weight behind separatists in eastern Ukraine, and the conflict there has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks with increasing violations of a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and a massive Russian troop buildup along the Ukrainian border. Moscow has rejected Ukraine and Western concerns, arguing that it’s free to deploy its forces and charging that they don’t threaten anyone.

But at the same time, Moscow sternly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel east, saying that in Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in the region.
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