France said Monday nothing appeared to justify Russia's use of force against Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait off the coast of Crimea.
"We call on Russia to free as soon as possible the detained Ukrainian sailors and to return the seized ships," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.
"Given our knowledge of the facts to date, nothing appears to justify the use of force by Russia," the spokesman said.
Russia said Monday it had acted strictly within international law during a confrontation this weekend between Russian and Ukrainian navy ships in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukrainian ships of illegally entering Russian territorial waters and not cooperating with Russian border guards. Russia fired on and then seized three Ukrainian ships in the incident on Sunday.
"This situation is a direct consequence of Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, in violation of international law," the French foreign ministry noted.
"We call on Russia to exercise utmost restraint and to prevent any military escalation," the spokesman added, while underscoring his country's support for Ukrainian territorial integrity within internationally-recognised borders.
"We call on Russia to respect freedom of passage in the Kerch strait along with navigation in Sea of Azov waters," the French spokesman said.
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