During a joint press conference with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl urged the Russian authorities to release the captured Ukrainian military sailors, as well as other illegally detained Ukrainian citizens, in particular, director Oleh Sentsov and activist Vladimir Balukh, reports Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform.
“Austria regrets the military escalation in the Kerch Strait on November 25th. In connection with this, we continue to call for the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors and the captured ships. This also concerns the release of illegally detained Ukrainian citizens, including Oleh Sentsov and Vladimir Balukh,” said Kneissl, who is on a two-day visit to Russia.
On 25 November last year, Russia attacked and captured the Ukrainian military boats Berdyansk and Nikopol and the tugboat Yany Kapu in neutral waters. All 24 Ukrainians on board were accused of violating the Russian state border, arrested, and transferred from Kerch to Moscow. Ukraine considered this an act of military aggression, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognized the captured sailors as prisoners of war.
US President Donald Trump canceled his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin because of the Kerch Strait incident. US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker similarly called off his scheduled negotiation session with Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov.
Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in December that Ukraine had invited its international partners to take part in a passage of naval ships from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. The Russian media warned that this could “aggravate the situation”.