French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both demanded that Russia release the 24 Ukrainian sailors who were captured on the 25th of November in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea
The sailors were captured along with their ships. Moscow said that they were illegally crossing the Russian border. On the other hand, Ukraine said that Russia’s capture of the two small gunboats and one tugboat was considered illegal. It accused Russia of military aggression.
On November 25, Russia blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait for the Ukrainian tugboat “Yany Kapu” and two armoured naval boats called “Berdyansk” and “Nikopol.” The boats were on a scheduled re-deployment from the Black Sea port of Odesa to the Azov Sea port of Mariupol.
The Navy Command of Ukraine noted that the Russian side had been notified regarding the plans to re-deploy the vessels in advance in accordance with international standards to guarantee the safety of navigation.
In a joint statement, Markel and Macron stated: “We demand safe, free and unimpeded transit for all ships through the Kerch Strait and the immediate and unconditional release of all illegally detained Ukrainian seafarers.”
They continued: “They too should be able to celebrate the upcoming festivities with their families.”
They concluded: “The human rights situation in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in violation of international law, and the use of military force by Russia in the Straits of Kerch and abusive controls in the Sea of Azov are also a source of great concern to us.”
On Boxing Day, Kiev called for their Western allies to consider additional sanctions against Moscow. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea said that Kiev is seeking to prompt a diplomatic crisis.
In theory, a 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty gives, unrestrained access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov for both sides.
The strait is the only way to enter the Sea of Azov. It contains hundreds of kilometres of Ukrainian coastline.
All the 24 Ukrainian sailors have declared themselves to be prisoners of war