MOSCOW, November 17. /TASS/. Moscow has never doubted a possibility of handing over the three Ukrainian ships, which were seized last year in the Kerch Strait, back to Kiev, the Russian foreign ministry said on Sunday.
"We have never denied a possibility of returning the ships that were involved in the provocation organized by the previous Kiev authorities in the Kerch Strait in November 2018," the ministry said, adding that in June Ukraine’s embassy in Moscow was informed about what the Ukrainian side can do within Russian laws to have its sailors and ships released.
Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the Crimean border directorate of Russia’s Federal Security Service told TASS the ships would be handed over to Ukraine on November 18. According to the spokesman, in line with the agreements reached with Ukraine, three Ukrainian vessels - the Yany Kapu tugboat and small armored artillery boats Berdyansk and Nikopol - are being towed from the Kerch port to an agreed area of handover to the Ukrainian side.
On November 25, 2018, three Ukrainian warships en route from Odessa to Mariupol illegally crossed Russia’s state border, entered Russia’s territorial waters in the Kerch Strait and started performing dangerous maneuvers. Despite the repeated warnings and demands to stop, the Ukrainian vessels continued their way, forcing Russia to use weapons. All the three Ukrainian ships were detained in the Black Sea, along with 24 Ukrainian sailors who were later charged with violating the border.
On September 7, 2019, Moscow and Kiev carried out a "35 for 35" exchange of detainees, which included the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained in the Kerch Strait.