Russia Should Release Sailors by New Year – US Diplomat
The U.S. and its allies are considering how to make Russia accountable for its actions
United States Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker says Russia needs to release the Ukrainian sailors taken captive in the Kerch Strait in late November by Christmas or “before the new year.”
Volker spoke with VOA on Monday in Washington, explaining that the United States and its Western allies are considering a number of options to prevent Russia from asserting any more “unilateral control” in the shared waters of the Azov Sea.
“We don’t accept and will not accept Russia’s claimed annexation of Crimea,” he said, underlining the stance that the United States has taken since Russia’s so-called annexation of eastern Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Noting that the waters of the Azov Sea are subject to a bilateral arrangement between Ukraine and Russia, he said, “We don’t accept that the territorial waters around Crimea are Russian. They are Ukrainian. We don’t accept, therefore, that Kerch Strait is completely Russian. We believe it is shared sovereignty.”
Volker said the United States’ European allies could move to bar Russian vessels coming from Crimea or the Azov Sea from European ports. He said the move was suggested recently by Annegret Kramp-Karrenabaue, general secretary of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union and an aspiring successor to outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“It is a very strong measure and a very creative one,” Volker told VOA. “We’ll see if they pursue it.”
He said the United States wants such measures to put pressure on Russia and “get to the point at which Russia is willing to negotiate a solution.”
Volker said another possible measure is cutting Russian banks from the international SWIFT banking network, which operates under Belgian law and facilitates international transactions by sending payment orders between institutions in different countries.
“People refer to it as a nuclear option,” Volker said. “It would have costs for everybody involved. Big costs for Russia, but big costs for allies as well. Ultimately, we have to keep it on the table as a possibility because we just can’t continue to see Russia launch further steps of aggression in its neighborhood like this.”