Russia is trying to 'starve' port cities in Ukraine, says former ambassador

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to cut off Ukraine and “starve” its port cities along the coast to establish further territorial control in the region.

McFaul, who served during the Obama administration, called Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and crew in the Black Sea yet another instance of Putin attacking the established sovereignty of Ukraine. 

“I think Putin is prodding, he’s prodding the Ukrainians, he’s prodding Europe, he’s prodding the United States, he’s testing the waters … to see what he can get away with,” he told Hill.TV’s Jamal Simmons on “Rising.”

“He would like to cut off that strait to control it and thereby starve the port cities of Ukraine … and he wants to deny access to those Ukrainian cities and provoke Ukraine,” the former ambassador continued.

Tensions are rising once again between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine has accused Russia of capturing three vessels and 24 crew members off the coast of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

McFaul argued that Russia is trying to take "de facto" control of the region, saying that the confrontation took place where Russia built a 12-mile bridge between Crimea and the Russian mainland, which opened in May.

“They are de facto trying to establish facts on the ground over the territorial control over the sea and over a bridge that they built between Crimea and the Russian government, and this incident took place right around that bridge that has been built and opened not too long ago,” he said.

Putin claims that Ukraine staged the conflict as a political ploy. But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the move a blatant “act of aggression” by Russia.

U.S leaders, meanwhile, have decried Russia’s military actions.

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyWill Trump ignore the Constitution and stay in White House beyond his term? Trump taps ex-State spokeswoman Heather Nauert to help oversee White House fellowships Conservatives slam Omar over tweet on Gaza violence MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Dems ask former CIA chief John Brennan for Iran briefing: report MORE both condemned Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels and crew, calling it a violation of international law.

Though he initially stayed quiet on the issue, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE said Russia’s recent military actions against Ukraine were the “sole reason” he decided to cancel his planned meeting with Putin at the Group of 20 Summit.

“We don't like what happened, we're not happy about what happened,” Trump said during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Ab.

The Republican-controlled Senate has gone so far as to pass a bipartisan resolution on Thursday condemning Russia’s "provocative actions" against Ukraine, warning that the conflict off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula "invites further escalation."

—Tess Bonn