Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has said the decision to release 24 Ukrainian sailors depends on Moscow's political will.
"I'll say this very carefully: there are political and legal constructions allowing Russia to release them at any moment. It's only a political decision that is needed from Moscow to this end. But Russia isn't doing that. And therefore they are not at home! At the same time, Russia is offering some kind of option and Ukraine is saying no," he said in an interview with CurrentTime.
According to Klimkin, Russia offered to release sailors from custody if Ukraine pursues their criminal prosecution.
At the same time, he said Ukraine should continue to clearly defend the position that the Ukrainian sailors did not violate anything when they intended to navigate through the Kerch Strait, and that they became prisoners of war.
"Russia has violated the immunity of our naval vessels. Russia is trying to present everything as if the occupation (of Crimea) is a fact that should be recognized. But this has only been recognized by Russia. The whole world doesn't recognize this. Look at the results of the International Tribunal's ruling: only the Russian judge voiced another opinion. And all the others said that, by definition, our sailors could not even theoretically commit a crime," Klimkin said.
"If we accept their conditions regarding our sailors, Russia will take advantage of our position on Crimea, our position in the international courts, on everything where we're heading. And they will say there was no Russian aggression. This is a very complex issue," the minister added.
UNIAN memo. On the morning of November 25, 2018, Russia blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait for the Ukrainian tugboat "Yany Kapu" and two armored naval boats "Berdyansk" and "Nikopol," which were on a scheduled re-deployment from the Black Sea port of Odesa to the Azov Sea port of Mariupol.
The Ukraine Navy Command noted that the Russian side had been informed of the plans to re-deploy the vessels in advance in accordance with international standards to ensure the safety of navigation.
The Russian coast guard ship "Don" rammed the Ukrainian tugboat, damaging the Ukrainian vessel. As the Ukrainian boats were heading back in the Odesa direction after being rejected passage via the Kerch Strait, Russian coast guards opened aimed fire on them.
All 24 crew members on board were captured and later remanded in custody for two months, being charged with "illegal border crossing" (the sailors are facing up to six years in prison). Three crewmen were wounded in the attack.
Russian-controlled "courts" in occupied Crimea ruled that all 24 detainees should be remanded in custody, after which they were transferred to the Moscow-based Lefortovo and Matrosskaya Tishina detention centers. Moscow's Lefortovo district court in the middle of January 2019 decided to keep the Ukrainian sailors in remand until the end of April 2019. In April, their detention was extended until the end of August 2019.
The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) said in May that Moscow must release the sailors before June 25, 2019. The Kremlin rebuffed the call.
On July 9, Russian investigators finalized charges brought against all 24 sailors.