EU increasing pressure on Russia to free Ukrainian sailors - media

EU increasing pressure on Russia to free Ukrainian sailors - media

Ukrinform
Europe has stepped up pressure on Russia to free Ukrainian sailors, amid concern of a potential flare-up in the four-year old conflict, EUobserver has reported.

"We expect Russia to immediately and unconditionally release the 24 captured Ukrainian sailors," the EU's ambassador to Russia, Markus Ederer, told Russian deputy foreign minister Aleksandr Grushko in Moscow on Wednesday (January 30).

According to the news report, the EU also "expects Russia to ensure unhindered and free passage [for ships] through the Kerch Strait to and from the Azov Sea."

Russia captured the Ukrainian sailors in a naval skirmish in the Azov Sea area in November.

It has put them on trial in Moscow on pain of six years in prison.

It has also harassed commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports in the region, such as Mariupol, causing economic harm.

"If the crew members are not released, the EU should stand ready to look at new, targeted measures against Russia," Denmark's foreign minister Anders Samuelsen and Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek said on a visit to Mariupol this week.

As reported, on November 25, 2018, Russian border ships fired on and seized in the Kerch Strait three Ukrainian naval vessels that were moving from Odesa to Mariupol. Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors were captured.

The sailors were detained for two months. They were charged with illegally crossing Russia's border in the Black Sea. On November 29, Ukrainians were taken to a detention center in Moscow.

On January 16, Moscow's Lefortovo District Court extended the arrest of all 24 seamen until April 24 and 26, 2019. Attorneys will file appeals on all Ukrainians.

All captured sailors called themselves prisoners of war.


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