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story.lead_photo.caption A Ukrainian border guard stands ready at the border from Russia to Ukrainian side of the Ukraine - Russia border in Milove town, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. On a map, Chertkovo and Milove are one village, crossed by Friendship of Peoples Street which got its name under the Soviet Union and on the streets in both places, people speak a mix of Russian and Ukrainian without turning choice of language into a political statement. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president on Monday announced a partial call-up of reservists for training, saying the country needs to beef up its defenses to counter the threat of a Russian invasion.

The Kremlin dismissed the Ukrainian leader's statement as an "absurd" attempt to inflame tensions.

Tense relations between the neighbors were strained further by a Nov. 25 incident in which the Russian coast guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews off the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded by declaring martial law for 30 days in much of the country. During those 30 days, Ukrainian authorities are barring entry to all Russian males ages 16 to 60 in a move that Poroshenko said was needed to prevent Russia from further destabilizing the country.

Poroshenko said Monday that some reservists will be summoned for training as part of martial law. He also said some military units will be redeployed to strengthen the nation's defenses.

"Ukraine is taking its own steps in response to the threat of a large-scale Russian invasion," the Ukrainian leader said.

Over the weekend, Poroshenko said Russia had deployed a large number of troops along its border with Ukraine, and he alleged that the Kremlin intends to push inland into Ukraine. Ukraine also accused Russia of blockading its ports on the Sea of Azov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed Poroshenko's claims as an "absurd attempt to foment tensions."

"The accusations against Russia have no basis whatsoever," he said.

Peskov also rejected the claim that Russia was blocking traffic to and from Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, saying that traffic has continued normally except for occasional breaks because of bad weather.

A Russia-backed separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine has taken a toll on the national economy, reducing the cargo flow through the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov. The naval incident further stoked tensions.

Vitaliy Sinhur, a dock worker in Berdyansk, said the movement of ships has significantly ebbed.

Amid the tensions, the Russian military said its forces in Crimea were conducting drills involving long-range anti-ship missile systems.

Over the weekend, Poroshenko urged Germany and other Western allies to boost their naval presence in the Black Sea to help deter Russia from further aggression.

Ukraine's deputy defense minister, Anatoliy Petrenko, said the country is talking to its Western partners to respond to Russia's "escalatory actions."

The U.S. and its NATO allies have urged Russia to free the Ukrainian vessels and the crews.

"There is no justification for this use of force," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Monday. "Russia must release the Ukrainian sailors and ships."

NATO foreign ministers plan to discuss the incident later this week.

Asked what action NATO could take, Stoltenberg said: "We provide strong political but also strong practical support to Ukraine."

He added that NATO allies have helped modernize Ukraine's armed forces and have boosted their presence in the Black Sea.

In the Nov. 25 incident, three Ukrainian naval vessels were heading from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov when they were blocked by the Russian coast guard near the Kerch Strait between Russia's mainland and Crimea. After many tense hours of maneuvering, the Russians opened fire and seized the Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew members.

Russia ordered that the Ukrainian seamen be put in custody for two months pending an investigation into the clash.

Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for the naval incident, which further escalated the dispute that began in 2014 when Russian annexed Crimea and backed the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Information for this article was contributed by Lorne Cook of The Associated Press.

A Section on 12/04/2018

Print Headline: 'Invasion' threat prompts Ukraine to call up reservists

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