MFA Russia admits possibility of releasing POW sailors from custody before end of "trial"
The Russian Foreign Ministry has admitted that Ukrainian naval sailors captured by Russia near the Kerch Strait Nov 25, 2018, could be released from custody and returned to Ukraine before the court in Moscow hands down a ruling on charges brought before them, while this is not about lifting their "responsibility".
“It [the note of the Russian Foreign Ministry] clearly stated that the Russian legislation contains relevant mechanisms that the Ukrainian side can use for the release of all 24 sailors – not from responsibility, but from custody – under written guarantees of the Ukrainian side that they will participate in pre-trial proceedings and the trial," Zakharova said in response to an UNIAN question.
"Nothing was said in the note about any restriction obliging them to stay in Russia. I consider the materials I have seen on this topic, published by Ukrainian bloggers or, as they call themselves, observers, are simply speculative," she said.
According to the spokesperson, the note clearly states that relevant instruments are available in Russian legislation.
"I would like to emphasize that we received from Ukraine an official refusal to discuss this topic in principle," said Zakharova.
Answering the question on whether there was an adjustment of Ukraine's position after the statements of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Zakharova stressed that since June 26, after receiving an official refusal from Ukraine, which was also accompanied by a public statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, no other notes, proposals, or statements were received from Kyiv, and no attempts were made to discuss the issue.
“I want this to be clearly recorded. As of today, we only have the official refusal of the Ukrainian side to discuss in principle the very note, the provisions that it contained and were sent to Kyiv via diplomatic channels," she said.
As UNIAN reported earlier, the note of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to Ukraine stated: "The Ukrainian side is being offered to provide written guarantees of participation of each of the 24 Ukrainian sailors after their release from custody in the preliminary and judicial investigation, in accordance with the Russian criminal procedure legislation, and also written guarantees of the preservation of material evidence – naval vessels Berdiansk, Nikopol, and Yany Kapu – after their transfer to the custody of the Ukrainian side before a court decision is handed down."
Responding to the Russian Foreign Ministry note, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of failing to comply with the May 25 order by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. It said the Russian Foreign Ministry note contained "a cynical proposal to provide the Ukrainian side with written guarantees of Ukraine's participation in the continuation of the criminal prosecution of Ukrainian sailors in accordance with Russian law." The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry added that it considered "this proposal by Russia unacceptable and aggravating the dispute between Ukraine and Russia regarding the immunity of warships." It also demanded, "that Russia, without any further conditions, comply with the Order of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and immediately release the captured 24 Ukrainian sailors."
Klimkin said that Russia aims to: "require us to admit that our sailors could commit a crime," "persuade us to recognize the lawfulness of the judicial process against them under Russian law," and "invite us to bend over to the criminal procedure code of the Russian Federation, and at the same time indirectly recognize the occupation of Crimea."
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in actions that could disrupt the process of the liberation of Ukrainian sailors.
"We do not understand, and I personally do not understand why, without consulting me, the minister makes a statement on behalf of Ukraine as a state, if it is the competence of the president," said Zelensky.
The minister insisted that MFA Ukraine was in full right to exchange such correspondence.
U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker believes Russia's "offer" voiced to Ukraine on the issue of captured naval sailors was in fact a trap and an "affront to justice" as "there was no basis to detain them in the first place."