Tensions are growing between Britain and key allies,as European diplomats pushed back on calls for a firmer response to Russia's weekend naval clash with Ukraine. 

Tensions are growing between Britain and key allies,as European diplomats pushed back on calls for a firmer response to Russia's weekend naval clash with Ukraine.

The fracture in the Western alliance sets the stage for tense exchanges when European, US, and Russian leaders meet at a G20 summit in Argentina later this week.

 Britain, Poland, and the Baltic States have urged other members of the EU 28 to impose extra measures when existing sanctions against Russia are renewed in December.

 The calls have been backed by the US, which on Tuesday called on European countries to tighten sanctions and re-think Nord Stream-2, an undersea gas pipeline linking Russia with Germany.

 France and Germany, which brokered a ceasefire and tentative peace accord between Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Petro Poroshenko, the leader of Ukraine, in 2015, are understood to fear such a move could split the bloc and further inflame tensions.

 EU countries including Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus have argued for a softer stance on Russia and have expressed skepticism about the utility of the sanctions regime.

 Britain was among a group of member states who in recent days have pushed for mention of further restrictive measures against Russia, an EU diplomatic stated.

 Last month Italy threatened to veto the renewal of sanctions against Russia first imposed following the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in the spring of 2014.

  "I have taken note of the criticism but nothing has changed in the basic view of the economic project which is what NordStream is," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday.

 "We are not going to move very quickly on any new sanctions, there could be some later on, that is not ruled out. But for now the unity of the 28 is key. And focus on de-escalation," an EU diplomat said. 

Mr Putin on Wednesday brushed off US president Donald Trump's threat to cancel a G20 meeting with him over the incident.

 In his first public comments since Russian coast guards rammed, fired on, and then boarded two Ukrainian artillery boats and an accompanying tug on Sunday, Mr Putin insisted Russian forces had acted legally.

 "What were they (Russian forces) supposed to do?" Mr Putin said when asked about the incident at an investment forum in Moscow on Wednesday.

 "They were fulfilling their military duty. "They were fulfilling their lawful functions in protecting Russia's borders.

 They would do the same in your country." Mr Putin was speaking after Mr Trump made the remarks about their meeting, and criticised the European response as too lax.

 "Maybe I won't even have the meeting," he said in an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday.

"I don't like that aggression. I don't like aggression at all. And Germany shouldn't like that aggression." 

"They're absolutely not doing enough," he added, referring to Germany's contribution to Nato.

 "Many of those countries are not doing enough toward Nato." The Kremlin on Wednesday said that as far as it was aware the meeting had not been cancelled.

 A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “The UK has been at the forefront of strengthening EU sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

 We fully supported new sanctions this year in response to Russian elections in Crimea and Sevastopol, and the construction of the Kerch Bridge.

 "In response to the latest Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov, we will continue to work closely with European partners to consider what concrete measures we can take.”

 Russia and Ukraine share sovereignty of the Kerch straight and the Azov sea under a 2003 treaty. Russia forcibly annexed Crimea and opened a bridge across the strait, which it built despite Ukrainian protests, this year.

 Twenty-three Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner during the incident appeared in a Russian court on charges of illegally crossing the Russian border on Tuesday.

 The incident marks the most serious escalation of the conflict between the two neighbours since Mr Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea and sent troops into eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015. 

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has said the incident could lead to "full scale war".

 He placed several Ukrainian regions under martial law on Wednesday, citing what he said was a heightened possibility of a Russian land attack against the country.

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