U.S. Urges Russia to Release Imprisoned Ukrainian Sailors

KIEV/MOSCOW (Bloomberg News/TNS/The Washington Post) -

The U.S. called on Russia to release jailed Ukrainian sailors and enable a prisoner exchange, U.S. State Department Special Representative Kurt Volker told reporters in Kiev.

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and imprisoned their two dozen crew members in November, accusing them of violating its territorial waters. The incident occurred off the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 after protesters in Kiev ousted the country’s Kremlin-backed leader. Last Thursday, Ukraine seized a Russian tanker, the Nika Spirit, anchored in the Black Sea, freeing the crew but holding onto the vessel.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said the Nika Spirit was identified as being involved in the interception of the Ukrainian vessels in November.

A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the Black Sea seizure and would take “appropriate measures” in response, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported. Before the Russian crew was released, the Kremlin denounced the taking of “Russian hostages” and warned of rapid “consequences.”