Russian Federation returns captured ships to Ukraine, paving road to 'Normandy' summit

Cheryl Sanders
November 19, 2019

A Russian ministry statement said the ship handover took place Monday but did not give further details.

On November 25, 2018, Russia's Federal Security Service seized three Ukrainian Navy ships after the vessels illegally entered Russian territorial waters in the Kerch Strait and proceeded to engage in unsafe manoeuvres while on route from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol.

Ukraine has urged for the return of the ships as a positive gesture ahead of a scheduled December 9 meeting in Paris to discuss a four-way peace agreement on eastern Ukraine.

The handover, confirmed by the two countries' foreign ministries, occurred in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea, which Russian Federation annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Russian coastguard seized the vessels and their crews during a standoff in the Kerch Strait in November 2018 in which the Russian coastguard opened fire.

The Coast Guard fired several shots and detained 24 Ukranian sailors for 10 months following the seizure.

Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday. According to Crimean lawmaker Dmitry Belik, they will not be accompanied by any military ships, and will be met by Ukrainian vessels without weapons onboard. It said that regardless of the ships' return, Ukraine will press the case against the Russian seizure of the ships in an global tribunal.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces. The fighting began in 2014 after Russian Federation annexed Crimea from Ukraine and pits Russia-backed separatists against Ukrainian troops.

The plan was brokered by France and Germany and envisions autonomy for separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and amnesty for rebels.

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