[WATCH] Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announces end of martial law

President says Russian threat is still present, but military rule has to end due to the upcoming presidential vote

President Petro Poroshenko
President Petro Poroshenko

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has announced the end of a martial law, which was introduced last month after a clash with Russia in the Sea of Azov.

During a live-streamed military cabinet meeting in capital Kiev on Wednesday, Poroshenko said that not renewing the measure despite the ongoing "Russian threat" was his "principled decision".

"Today, right now, at 2:00pm, the martial law ends," he said. "I would like to highlight that the Russian threat has not gone away."

Under the martial law, Ukraine banned Russian men of combat age from entering the country and boosted security at critical sites such as nuclear power stations and Black Sea ports.

Poroshenko said he would have asked the parliament to renew it if it was not getting in the way of the presidential elections due on 31 March.

"Why do I decide not to continue martial law? Because we have two threats. On the one hand, the threat of direct military aggression; on the other, the threat of attacks on democratic rights and freedoms of citizens," he said.

The move to impose martial law in Ukraine's 10 border regions came after Poroshenko warned of a build-up of Russian forces near Ukraine's borders, escalating the most dangerous crisis in years between the ex-Soviet neighbours.

Russian border patrol boats fired on, boarded and seized the three Ukrainian vessels, along with 24 sailors, in November off the coast of the Russian-annexed Crimea Peninsula.

Western governments accused Russia of acting illegally and US President Donald Trump cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires over the incident.

"The support and concrete actions of our international partners - their pressure on the Kremlin combined with a martial law - have stopped the worst scenario that the Russian Federation planned," Poroshenko said. 

"They didn't let Putin cross the new red line."

Meanwhile, Russia's foreign ministry on Wednesday said it hoped the Western countries would not take part in any Ukrainian attempt to stage what it called "a provocation" near the Kerch Strait and dissuade Kiev from escalating tensions in the area.

Ukraine said last week that it planned to send warships to its Azov Sea ports via the Kerch Strait.

During his visit to Ukraine last week, the UK's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told his Ukrainian counterpart that the Black Sea did not belong to Russia and that London had sent a Royal Navy ship there to show that Kiev did not stand alone.

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