Russian Foreign Minister denies the possible release of Ukrainian sailors before a court sentence

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Ukrainian sailors captured near the Kerch Strait won’t be released until they receive a court sentence.

“There will be a trial after the investigation. As soon as it is over, we can talk about how to facilitate their fate or agree on some specific steps. But this will be done after the trial is completed,” Lavrov said, as quoted by TASS.

The Russian minister repeated that the Ukrainian servicemen are accused of illegal invasion of territorial waters. "This is considered a crime in any country. There’s a regulation at the US-Mexican border to shoot to kill anyone who attempts to cross. We didn’t have that," said Lavrov.

On November 25, the Russian military attacked and detained three Ukrainian warships in the neutral waters of the Black Sea. The crew of two boats and a tug (24 people) were taken to Simferopol where a Russian-controlled court arrested all Ukrainians for two months. The next day, the sailors were transported to Moscow, where they are currently being held.

The US State Department called on Russia to release the Ukrainian sailors, "otherwise the consequences and pain will only increase with time." High Representative of the EU Federica Mogherini also called on Russia to release the Ukrainian sailors without any conditions.

On the morning of November 25, Ukraine informed the Russian port of its intention to transfer three ships through the Kerch Strait, as required by the Agreement on the joint use of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait. However, at around 8:00 a.m., Russian ships carried out acts of provocation against the Ukrainian vessels, even ramming into the Yany Kapu tugboat.

Russia later accused the Ukrainian ships of illegally entering its territorial waters, claiming that they were “maneuvering dangerously” and “not complying with the legitimate demands of the Russian authorities”. Russia also physically blocked the Kerch Strait with a transport ship. The Ukrainian ships decided to return to Odessa, but they were chased and subsequently attacked by the Russian military. The Berdiansk and Nikopol boats were hit, and two crew members were wounded. All three of the ships were seized by Russia.

On November 28, the Kremlin-controlled court of Simferopol placed the Ukrainian sailors under 2 months of arrest – until January 25, 2019.

  Lavrov, Russia, Ukraine, Kerch Strait