MILAN: Russia on Friday insisted that Ukrainian sailors it captured after seizing their vessels will go on trial for violating its maritime border, despite international calls for their release.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the 24 Ukrainian sailors currently in pre-trial detention will be put in the dock for violations of Russian and international law.
“When the investigation is over, there will be a trial,” he said at a meeting in Milan of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Russia’s top diplomat suggested that after a trial verdict, measures could be taken to improve the sailors’ situation, while not saying whether they could be pardoned or released as part of an exchange with Kiev.
“As soon as the trial is over, we will have different possibilities in accordance with Russian legislation,” he said.
“Then it will be possible to say how to make their lives easier or agree some concrete steps. But this will be done only after the trial has been completed.” Late last month Russia opened fire on three Ukrainian navy vessels as they tried to pass through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov.
The 24 Ukrainian crew members, three of whom were wounded, were detained.
Despite international calls for their release, courts ordered the sailors to be held in pre-trial detention for two months and they are now in Moscow.
The seamen face up to six years in prison for illegally crossing Russia’s borders.
Critics of the Kremlin have warned Russia is preparing a show trial for the sailors.
Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2018