3 Apr 2019 15:58

CoE human rights commissioner, Russian ombudsman visit Ukrainian sailors at Lefortovo jail

MOSCOW. April 3 (Interfax) - Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic have visited the Ukrainian sailors detained following the incident in the Kerch Strait and being held at the Lefortovo detention facility, the Russian ombudsman's press service said on Wednesday, without providing any details.

On November 25, 2018, Russian border guards used weapons to stop three Ukrainian naval vessels, the Yany Kapu tug and the Berdyansk and the Nikopol armored gunboats, which were traveling from Odesa to Mariupol in the Kerch Strait. The vessels were escorted to Kerch.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said the ships had entered Russia's territorial waters on orders from Kyiv and described the incident as an act of provocation coordinated by two Ukrainian Security Service officers. Russia also said that Kyiv had not duly notified it that naval vessels were planning to pass through the Kerch Strait.

Kyiv called the border guards' actions unlawful and accused Moscow of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a treaty between Ukraine and Russia on cooperation in using the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

Courts in Simferopol and Kerch remanded the 22 sailors and two Ukrainian Security Service officials in custody. In late November, they were transferred to Moscow.

The Ukrainians are charged with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border using violence or the threat to use violence." If found guilty, they could face up to six years in prison.

Kyiv calls the detained sailors prisoners of war. The Russian authorities say they cannot be regarded as POWs, as they are charged with a crime and Russia and Ukraine are not in a state of war or military conflict.