Russia-Ukraine tensions reignite Kerch Strait standoff

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 26.07.2019 00:41

Ukraine's security service said yesterday it had detained a Russian tanker in the Ukrainian port of Izmail for its alleged involvement in an incident in November in the Kerch Strait that led to Russia seizing three Ukrainian vessels.

"The Ukraine security service and military prosecutors' office detained [a] Russian tanker, the Neyma, which had blocked Ukrainian warships in the Kerch Strait," the security service said in a statement yesterday. Russia captured the vessels and their crews in waters that separate the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and Russia.

Fifteen Russian crew members from the detained Russian tanker were released amid threats of retaliation by Moscow, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency said. Russia's Foreign Ministry warned that there would be consequences if any members of the crew of the Russian tanker detained in Ukraine were held in custody, the RIA news agency reported. The ministry said it was looking into the detention by Ukraine of a Russian tanker in the Ukrainian port of Izmail in order to weigh an appropriate response. "If Russians have been taken hostage... there will soon be consequences," the ministry was quoted as saying.

Relations between the two neighbors were strained further following a Nov. 25 incident in which the Russian coast guard had fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews off the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine. Ukraine's former President Petro Poroshenko responded by introducing martial law for 30 days across much of Ukraine. For the duration of martial law, Ukrainian authorities barred entry to all Russian males aged 16 to 60 in a move the Ukrainian leader said was needed to prevent Russia from further destabilizing the country. In Kiev, Ukraine's ombudswoman said negotiations on the release of the Ukrainian sailors from the three vessels seized by the Russian navy off Crimea's coast had intensified after Russian and Ukrainian leaders spoke by phone earlier this month.

Russia and Ukraine traded blame for the confrontation that raised the specter of a full-blown conflict between the neighbors. Ukraine said its vessels were heading to the Sea of Azov in line with international maritime rules, while Russia charged that they had failed to obtain permission to pass through the narrow Kerch Strait, which is spanned by a bridge that Russia completed this year. The incident sharply escalated tensions that have been growing between the two countries since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

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