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19 July, 2019

U.S. legislators draft sanctions on 24 FSB operatives over 24 Ukrainian POW sailors

The U.S. "continues to strongly condemn Russia's dangerous naval assault on the Ukrainian Navy and the illegal detainment 24 Ukrainian sailors," legislators say

Four co-chairs of the U.S. Congressional Ukraine Caucus has introduced legislation to sanction members of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) over their role in capturing 24 Ukrainian crewmen last November near the Kerch Strait. The group issued a statement saying that the so-called SAILORS Act would apply to 24 senior FSB officers and their close associates, according to RFE/RL. The United States "continues to strongly condemn Russia's dangerous naval assault on the Ukrainian Navy and the illegal detainment 24 Ukrainian sailors," said Democratic Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Mike Quigley and Republicans Andy Harris and Brian Fitzpatrick. "The event represents the latest in a series of malicious steps taken by Russia to undermine Ukraine’s democratic progress and the international rules-based order," the legislators said. As UNIAN reported earlier, Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the extension by Russia until Oct 24 of Ukrainian POW sailors' term of custody further aggravates the dispute between the two countries. On May 25, 2019, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ("ITLOS") ordered the immediate and unconditional release of the three Ukrainian naval vessels and the twenty-four servicemen onboard. Russia's failure to immediately release the vessels and the servicemen constitutes "a brazen violation of this order," it said. The European Parliament has overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russian authorities "to release without further delay and unconditionally all illegally and arbitrarily detained Ukrainian citizens both in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine." According to Kurt Volker, the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations, by prolonging the Ukrainian POW sailors' term of remand, as well as by simplifying the granting of Russian passports to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russia attempts to put pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for July 21, UNIAN memo. On the morning of November 25, 2018, Russia blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait for the Ukrainian tugboat "Yany Kapu" and two armored naval boats "Berdyansk" and "Nikopol," which were on a scheduled re-deployment from the Black Sea port of Odesa to the Azov Sea port of Mariupol. The Ukraine Navy Command noted that the Russian side had been informed of the plans to re-deploy the vessels in advance in accordance with international standards to ensure the safety of navigation. The Russian coast guard ship "Don" rammed the Ukrainian tugboat, damaging the Ukrainian vessel. As the Ukrainian boats were heading back in the Odesa direction after being rejected passage via the Kerch Strait, Russian coast guards opened aimed fire on them. All 24 crew members on board were captured and later remanded in custody for two months, being charged with "illegal border crossing" (the sailors are facing up to six years in prison). Three crewmen were wounded in the attack. Russian-controlled "courts" in occupied Crimea ruled that all 24 detainees should be remanded in custody, after which they were transferred to the Moscow-based Lefortovo and Matrosskaya Tishina detention centers. Moscow's Lefortovo district court several times extended the custody term, with the latest prolongation set until Oct 24, 2019.


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