UN Maritime Tribunal Rules That Russia Immediately Release Captive Ukrainian Sailors
It remains unclear whether the Kremlin will comply with international law
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled today that Russia immediately release captive Ukrainian sailors and return hijacked Ukrainian naval ships.
“We expect that Russia will quickly and fully comply with the Tribunal’s order. Recall that in a similar case – Arctic Sunrise – Russia also did not take part, but quickly freed people,” Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said.
Russia representatives did not take part in the hearings, saying that the international tribunal’s decision is not valid, since the actions of Ukraine in the Kerch Strait must be qualified as “military.” However, Moscow also does not recognize the Ukrainians as “prisoners of war.”
Last year, on Nov. 25, three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 sailors entered the Kerch Strait to make a transfer from Odesa to Mariupol. The Kerch Strait connects the Russian mainland to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
In response to the Ukrainian naval vessels crossing the Kerch Strait, Russian security forces seized the three vessels and took the sailors aboard captive.
“Correspondents say the ruling is unlikely to definitively end the question of allowing Ukrainian ships full access to the Sea of Azov, which Russia has been restricting since a bridge across the Kerch Strait was completed,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reported.
The European Union, NATO, and other international bodies have called on Moscow to release the ships and the detained sailors.
In the case of the Arctic Sunrise, Russian authorities seized a Greepeace ship – the Artic Sunrise – at gunpoint on Sep 19, 2013. The ship was in international waters in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone and included a crew of 28 activists and two freelance journalists. It was flying a Dutch. The Netherlands filed a case at the International Tribunal, which ruled that the crew and ship be released. Although the Kremlin ignored the ruling, it did eventually release them.
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