PACE calls on Russia to release Ukrainian sailors

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted the resolution "The escalation of tensions around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and threats to European security,” Ukrinform reports.

In this resolution, PACE officially demands that Russia treats the captured sailors in compliance with the Geneva Convention on to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. "The Assembly urges Russia to immediately release the Ukrainian servicemen and ensure they are granted the necessary medical, legal and consular assistance in accordance with relevant provisions of international humanitarian law such as the Geneva Conventions,” the document reads.

This is the first international document that officially recognizes the status of Ukrainian military sailors as prisoners of war and it urges Moscow to immediately release them. The resolution was supported by 103 delegates. 16 abstained and 3 were against it. PACE also urged Russia to ensure freedom of passage in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The Assembly also calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation and of Ukraine to “respect both the Treaty on the Use of the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait and the agreed regulations for navigation through the Canal and refrain from any further steps that might aggravate the legal disputes between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, escalate the conflict and threaten security in the wider region.” It fully supports the efforts made through diplomatic channels and legal procedures of both sides concerned.

The resolution expresses great concern about Russia’s construction of the bridge over the Kerch Strait, which it considers illegal and another breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty. It is also concerned about Russia’s policy regarding the selective search of Ukrainian and international ships, which hinder navigation to and from the Sea of Azov.

The Assembly supports the proposal by the European Parliament that the mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which covers the entire territory of Ukraine, including maritime areas, should also cover the new area of tensions in and around the Sea of Azov.

PACE also supports the proposal made by Germany and France that third country observers monitor shipping traffic and guarantee freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait.

On the morning of November 25, Ukraine informed the Russian port of its intention to transfer three ships through the Kerch Strait, as required by the Agreement on the joint use of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait. However, at around 8:00 a.m., Russian ships carried out acts of provocation against the Ukrainian vessels, even ramming into the Yany Kapu tugboat.

Russia later accused the Ukrainian ships of illegally entering its territorial waters, claiming that they were “maneuvering dangerously” and “not complying with the legitimate demands of the Russian authorities”. Russia also physically blocked the Kerch Strait with a transport ship. The Ukrainian ships decided to return to Odessa, but they were chased and subsequently attacked by the Russian military. The Berdiansk and Nikopol boats were hit, and two crew members were wounded. All three of the ships were seized by Russia.

On November 28, the Kremlin-controlled court of Simferopol placed the Ukrainian sailors under 2 months of arrest – until January 25, 2019.

  Ukraine, Russia, PACE, Kerch Strait, Crimea, Council of Europe