Russia rejects call for release of Ukrainian sailors
By HENRY MEYER AND ANDREY BIRYUKOV | Bloomberg | Published: December 29, 2018
Russia rejected a Franco-German call to release 24 Ukrainian sailors seized during a naval clash last month, and accused the European powers of siding with the government in Kiev.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron issued the appeal in a joint statement on Friday that also criticized Russia for conducting "excessive" inspections in the Sea of Azov near Crimea that are holding up free passage of shipping.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the sailors, who are in pre-trial detention on charges of illegally entering Russian territory, are being treated in accordance with the law. The appeal by Merkel and Macron to President Vladimir Putin "can't be a reason to change Russian law" to free anyone from responsibility, Peskov told reporters on a conference call Saturday.
The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement Saturday that Russia is maintaining access to the Sea of Azov under the terms of a bilateral agreement with Ukraine, adding that it rejects "unacceptable demands" and "double standards."
Russia fired at and seized three Ukrainian vessels last month near the Sea of Azov, a key waterway for Ukraine to export metals and agricultural products. The European Union and the U.S. condemned Russia's action, though neither responded with new sanctions.
Russia began inspecting vessels heading to and from Ukraine after it completed a bridge this year linking its mainland to the annexed Crimean Peninsula across the Kerch Strait, which separates the Azov from the Black Sea.