Some of Ukrainian sailors detained for illegally crossing the Russian border in the Crimean peninsula last week have now been sent to a detention center in Moscow, one of their lawyers says.
Russian authorities arrested 24 Ukrainian sailors and seized their three gunboats on Sunday, saying they had deliberately trespassed into its territorial waters in the Sea of Azov.
Earlier this week, a Russian court in Crimea ordered the detained sailors and the vessels to be remained in pre-trial detention for two months until January 25, 2019.
Dzhemil Temishev, one of the attorneys of the detained sailors, wrote in a facebook post on Thursday that some of the sailors “are being taken to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.”
Another attorney, Emine Avamilyeva, said they were “taken by plane” to Moscow.
The sailors are charged with illegal border crossing by a group of individuals acting in collusion, or by an organized group, or with the use of or the threat to use violence, according to lawyer Aider Azamatov, who said they face up to six years in prison if convicted.
While Kiev has denounced the Russian action as “illegal,” Moscow said it “acted in strict accordance with the law, both domestic and international.”
Tensions, already high between Kiev and Moscow since some four year ago, entered a new phase following Sunday’s incident. The two countries now risk being drawn into a wider conflict amid Western calls for more sanctions against Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko of orchestrating the naval “provocation” in the Black Sea to bolster his popularity ratings ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Moscow has also said the United States is encouraging provocation between Russia and Ukraine.
Turkey to play mediator role
On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan said Ankara could play a mediation role to ease tensions and that he had “discussed this with both sides.”
Erdogan held telephone conversation with both presidents on Wednesday and planned to bring up the issue in a meeting with US President Donald Trump in Buenos Aires where they are to attend the G20 summit.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Thursday he was “greatly concerned” about the escalation, calling on “both parties to exercise maximum restraint and to take steps without delay to contain this incident and reduce tensions.”
The latest hostilities also affected a planned meeting between Trump and Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit, with the US president calling it off on Thursday.
The Kremlin said Friday Trump’s decision was regrettable. “We regret the US administration’s decision to cancel the meeting,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
“This means that discussion of important issues on the international and bilateral agenda will be postponed indefinitely.”
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