Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that the issue of Ukrainian sailors detained by Russia in 2018 had dominated his talks with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit but no decision on the sailors’ fate had been made yet.
The Russian navy captured the Ukrainian sailors and their three vessels in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, on Nov. 25, 2018, after opening fire on them, according to Reuters.
Moscow accused them of illegally entering Russian waters, something that Kyiv denies. The United States and the European Union have urged Russia to release the men.
“The president of the United States made this theme one of the priorities during our communications at the G20,” Putin told a news conference in Japan’s Osaka, adding that no decision had been made on the sailors’ fate and a court decision was awaited.
Putin also said that the issue should not be used as a political tool in Ukraine where parliamentary elections are due in July.
He also claimed that the new Ukrainian Army's chief of staff, Ruslan Khomchak, allegedly admitted that the very attempt of Ukrainian boats to pass through the Kerch Strait was a provocation by the then-president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.
At the same time, in an interview with RFE/RL released on June 13, Khomchak, in fact, said that the incident near the Kerch Strait was a Russian provocation.
The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) said in May that Moscow should release the sailors immediately. The Kremlin rebuffed the call.
Apart from discussing the fate of the sailors, Putin and Trump showed mutual commitment to improving relations as they met at the G20 summit, with Trump calling it “a great honor” to meet his Russian counterpart.