Russia has returned to Ukraine the three ships detained in the Kerch Strait area a year ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a commentary on Monday.
"On November 18, the handover of the three Ukrainian naval ships to Ukraine took place that violated Russia’s border in November 2018 in the course of Kiev’s intentional provocation in the Kerch Strait area and were detained by Russian authorities," the Foreign Ministry is quoted as saying by TASS.
"Russia is determined to firmly resist any provocations near its borders in order to maintain the safety of shipping in accordance with Russian legislation, bilateral treaties and other applicable norms of international law," the Foreign Ministry noted.
The commentary recalls that the ships were pieces of material evidence in Russia’s continuing criminal proceedings over the illegal crossing of the Russian border.
"Their handover to Ukraine for safekeeping became possible because the Russian authorities had completed the required investigative procedures concerning the ships and their presence in Russian territory is no longer necessary for continuing the judicial procedures," the Russian Foreign Ministry added. "We would like to point out once again that the Kiev authorities’ orders to their servicemen to carry out provocative actions in November 2018 were a crime not only against the sovereignty of Russia, but also against Ukrainian citizens, who were intentionally put at risk and coerced into committing legal violations."
Earlier, a source in security structures informed that the vessels' transfer would take several hours. "The handover process has begun. It is going in accordance with the agreements reached by the parties. The handover is taking place 30 kilometers from Cape Takil and is supposed to take several hours," the source stated.
Kerch Strait incident
On November 25, 2018, three Ukrainian naval ships illegally crossed Russia’s border and tried to carry out some unlawful actions in Russian territorial waters. They ignored legitimate demands to stop issued by vessels belonging to the FSB Border Service and the Black Sea Fleet, and continued maneuvering dangerously. In order to stop the Ukrainian ships, weapons had to be used. The three vessels were detained in Russian territorial waters.
A criminal investigation was opened into the border incident. Twenty-four Ukrainian crew members were put into custody, charged with violating the Russian border under Article 322.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.
On September 7, 2019, Russia and Ukraine conducted a "35 for 35" exchange of detainees, which involved the Ukrainian sailors.
Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation is currently looking into the legitimacy of the former Ukrainian authorities’ decision to send three navy ships to the Kerch Strait.