The Russian Foreign Ministry has admitted that Ukrainian naval sailors captured by Russia near the Kerch Strait Nov 25, 2018, could be released from custody and returned to Ukraine before the court in Moscow hands down a ruling on charges brought before them, while this is not about lifting their "responsibility".
"It [the note of the Russian Foreign Ministry] clearly stated that the Russian legislation contains relevant mechanisms that the Ukrainian side can use for the release of all 24 sailors – not from responsibility, but from custody – under written guarantees of the Ukrainian side that they will participate in pre-trial proceedings and the trial," Zakharova said.
"Nothing was said in the note about any restriction obliging them to stay in Russia. I consider the materials I have seen on this topic, published by Ukrainian bloggers or, as they call themselves, observers, are simply speculative," she said.
According to the spokesperson, the note clearly states that relevant instruments are available in Russian legislation.
"I would like to emphasize that we received from Ukraine an official refusal to discuss this topic in principle," said Zakharova. Answering the question on whether there was an adjustment of Ukraine's position after the statements of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Zakharova stressed that since June 26, after receiving an official refusal from Ukraine, which was also accompanied by a public statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, no other notes, proposals, or statements were received from Kyiv, and no attempts were made to discuss the issue.
"I want this to be clearly recorded. As of today, we only have the official refusal of the Ukrainian side to discuss in principle the very note, the provisions that it contained and were sent to Kyiv via diplomatic channels," she said.
The note of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to Ukraine stated: "The Ukrainian side is being offered to provide written guarantees of participation of each of the 24 Ukrainian sailors after their release from custody in the preliminary and judicial investigation, in accordance with the Russian criminal procedure legislation, and also written guarantees of the preservation of material evidence – naval vessels Berdiansk, Nikopol, and Yany Kapu – after their transfer to the custody of the Ukrainian side before a court decision is handed down."
On May 10, hearings of the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the case of the Ukrainian sailors began in Hamburg. An agent from Ukraine at the hearing was Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine for European integration Olena Zerkal.
On May 25, the Tribunal issued a ruling that obliged Russia to release three Ukrainian ships and the 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in the Kerch Strait area in November 2018 and allow them to return to Ukraine. Some 19 judges voted for this decision, one judge – Ruslan Kolodkin (from Russia) – against.
The Tribunal ordered Russia to report on the implementation of this decision by June 25, 2019, and also obliged Ukraine and Russia to refrain from any actions that could aggravate or prolong the dispute.