The head of NATO has demanded that Russia release Ukrainian sailors and naval vessels it seized in a confrontation at sea, while Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says concerns that Moscow could seek to create a “land corridor” linking Russia to Crimea are “absurd.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke on December 3 as Russia continued to hold the 24 Ukrainian seamen in Moscow jails on border-violation charges Kyiv rejects.
“Russia recently seized Ukrainian ships and sailors near the Kerch Strait. There is no justification for this use of force. We call for calm and restraint. Russia must release the Ukrainian sailors and ships,” Stoltenberg said on the eve of a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers who will address that issue, among others.
Russia, he said, “must also allow freedom of navigation and unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov. Ukrainian vessels — military as well as civilian — have the right to navigate through the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov.”
Russia has been holding the sailors — crewmen from three Ukrainian naval craft — since the confrontation on November 25 in which Russian Coast Guard ships rammed a Ukrainian Navy tugboat and fired on the boats before special forces boarded them.