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Moscow court extends arrest of all 24 Ukrainian sailors detained in Kerch Strait

The investigation has ended and the defendants and their lawyers have begun studying the case files

MOSCOW, July 17. /TASS/. Moscow’s Lefortovo Court has remanded in custody all of the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained last November for illegally entering Russian territorial waters in the Kerch Strait, a TASS correspondent reported from the courtroom.

"[They shall] remand in custody for the next three months," the court ruling read with regard to each accused sailor.

The investigation has ended and the defendants and their lawyers have begun studying the case files.

Before the hearing, the prosecutor and major cases detective filed a request with the court to hold a closed-door hearing into the motion of the FSB (Federal Security Service) to extend the arrest, as an open hearing "might lead to a disclosure of official secrets and the secrecy of investigation."

The defendants’ lawyers insisted on holding an open hearing, referring to the fact that the investigation had ended and the evidence had been collected. The court met the prosecution’s motion. The sailors were laconic while answering the judge’s questions and seized a chance to talk with their friends and relatives before the hearing.

Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudswoman Lyudmila Denisova, representatives of the Ukrainian and European consulates came to the courtroom to support the sailors.

Kerch Strait incident

On November 25, 2018, three Ukrainian naval ships violated the navigation rules for warships in Russia’s territorial waters while sailing from the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea via the Kerch Strait. The Russian border guard officers were forced to open gunfire to stop them. The ships were detained and towed to the city of Kerch. A criminal case was opened. The crews — 24 Ukrainian naval sailors — were arrested. Later, they were taken to Moscow’s pre-trail detention center and charged with trespassing the Russian border in an organized group.

On July 15, Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova pledged in a televised interview with Ukrainian channel Pryamoy that Russia was ready to release the Ukrainian sailors and return the vessels provided that Kiev should guarantee their presence at the trial. According to the human rights commissioner, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea did not raise the issue "of dropping the criminal case against the sailors [by Russia], but raised the issue of their release, or perhaps, of choosing a different restrictive measure." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told reporters on July 15 that Russia and Ukraine were holding talks on the exchange of Ukrainian sailors.