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Russia's president comments on future of Ukrainian sailors detained in Kerch Strait

The issue could be solved once the criminal probe has ended, the president noted

MOSCOW, December 20. /TASS/. The future of Ukrainian naval sailors detained in the Kerch Strait will be determined according to the outcome of the court trial, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at an annual news conference on Thursday.

Putin gave an answer to a correspondent of the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, who asked about the Ukrainian sailors’ exchange for Russian citizens staying in Ukraine and about conditions for this exchange to take place. Putin underscored that the issues related to the swap are being discussed, in particular with Viktor Medvedchuk, a leader of the Ukrainian Choice - Right of People public movement.

"Medvedchuk has recently visited Moscow and raised an issue of the release of the Ukrainian service members detained in the Kerch Strait," Putin said. "However, as I’ve already said the issue could be solved after the end of the criminal probe."

Commenting on the Kerch Strait incident in late November, Putin again pointed out that the court would have the last word.

"As for the Ukrainian service members’ future, they were sent out with anticipation that some of them would be killed. I can see that huge displeasure among the (Ukrainian) ruling quarters was caused by the fact that none had been killed," Putin said.

"Thanks God, this did not happen. Investigation is underway and after the criminal inquiry it will become clear what to do with this afterwards," he added.

Krech Strait provocation 

Ukraine's President Pyotr Poroshenko sought to use the Kerch Strait incident to raise his rating ahead of the presidential election, Putin believes. 

"The provocation was aimed at raising tensions," he said. "It is clear why our Ukrainian counterparts need it. Elections will soon take place there. They want to raise tensions in order to increase the rating of one of the presidential candidates - I mean the incumbent president. This is wrong. It will do good neither to their people nor to their country," Putin added. "In this sense, he achieved his goal but at the expense of the country’s interests," he added.

According to the Russian president, as a result of these actions, Poroshenko’s rating did grow a little bit. "His rating is about 12% at the moment," Putin said, adding that Poroshenko’s main rival, leader of the Batkivshchina (or Fatherland) party Yulia Timoshenko, had a rating of more than 20%.

On November 25, three Ukrainian navy ships illegally crossed Russia’s border and tried to carry out some illegal actions in Russian territorial waters later in the day. They ignored legitimate demands to stop issued by vessels belonging to the FSB Border Service and the Black Sea Fleet and continued maneuvering dangerously. In order to stop the Ukrainian ships, weapons had to be used. The three vessels were detained in Russian territorial waters. A criminal investigation was opened into the border incident. The Ukrainian ships’ crew members, 24 Ukrainian nationals, have been arrested until January 25, 2019. They are charged with violating the Russian border under Article 322.3 of the Russian Criminal Code. If found guilty, they may face up to six years in prison.

Moscow branded Kiev's stunt in the Kerch Strait as a dangerous provocation, while the European Union and NATO called for a de-escalation of tensions, while Kiev declared a 30-day martial law.