Ukraine won't give up its right for free navigation through Kerch Strait – General Staff chief
Ukraine will not give up the right of free navigation through the Kerch Strait, head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko has said.
"Ukraine will not give up its right of free navigation," he told reporters in Kyiv on Wednesday, answering the question when Ukrainian ships will be able to pass through the Kerch Strait.
As earlier reported, on November 25, 2018, Russian border guards used weapons to stop three Ukrainian naval vessels, the Yany Kapu tug and the Berdiansk and the Nikopol armored gunboats, which were traveling from Odesa to Mariupol in the Kerch Strait. The vessels were escorted to Kerch. Three sailors were injured.
The vessels were convoyed to Kerch, and 24 Ukrainians who were on them were arrested and accused of "illegally crossing the border" and charged with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border using violence or the threat to use violence." If found guilty, they could face up to six years in prison.
In late November, the Ukrainians were transferred to Moscow. The court extended all the Ukrainians' arrests until April 24.
Kyiv calls the detained sailors prisoners of war and has demanded their release.
In late February Ukraine's State Border Service Spokesman Oleh Slobodian said that Ukrainian ships currently do not cross the Kerch Strait, and foreign ships pass freely: "Vessels flying the Ukrainian flag, as a rule, practically do not pass through the Kerch Strait. As for foreign ships, now, under pressure from the international community, the Russian Federation lets them pass more freely, with fewer obstacles, to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov."
He said Russia this year detained and inspected 67 foreign ships moving to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.