A top U.S. diplomat has expressed the hope that Russia would release 24 Ukrainian crew members captured during a naval clash near Crimea in November.
Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, was asked during an interview on Ukrainian television if their freedom could be secured by Orthodox Christmas in early January.
“I think they should, and all of us are urging Russia to do so. It should be a goodwill gesture, and if so, I hope we are able to build on that, that we can get some momentum,’’ he told TSN news in an interview.
Moscow has rejected outside demands for the release of the crew members.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said recently that their fate was a matter of the Russian judiciary.
On Nov. 25, the Russian coastguard opened fire and detained several Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew members in the Kerch Strait, a waterway that connects the Black Sea with the smaller Sea of Azov.
Russia alleged that the vessels had illegally entered Russian territorial waters near the Crimea region, which Russia occupied and annexed from Ukraine four years ago.
Ukraine and most UN member states do not recognise the annexation.
Ukraine accuses Russia of fuelling a conflict between pro-Russian separatist groups and the Ukrainian military in Ukraine’s two eastern-most regions, on the Russian border.