Tue, 20 Aug 2019

A Moscow court has prolonged by three months the pretrial detention of 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces along with their three naval vessels in November near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

The Lefortovo district court ruled on July 17 that 13 of the sailors must stay in detention until October 24, while the remaining 11 will be held until October 26.

Russia has held the Ukrainian sailors since its forces fired on, boarded, and seized their vessels near the Kerch Strait on November 25.

Moscow claims the Ukrainian vessels illegally entered Russian territorial waters near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and took over in 2014.

The sailors face up to six years in prison if convicted.

The United States and other Western countries have called for the Ukrainian sailors' release, calling their detainment illegal.

Russia moved swiftly to seize control over Crimea after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in Kyiv by the pro-European Maidan protest movement in February 2014.

Putin's government sent troops without insignia to the peninsula, seized key buildings, took control of the regional legislature, and staged a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries.

Russia also fomented unrest and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where some 13,000 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict since April 2014.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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