The three Ukrainian ships, arrested by Russia on November 25th, 2018 were returned, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced on November 20th, 2019.
The ships were welcomed by their crews, who were released by Russia on September 7th, 2019, as part of the 35:35 prisoner exchange with Ukraine. The military personnel that was arrested in 2018 were charged with violating the Russian border.
“The Ukrainian ships Berdyansk, Nikopol and Yana Kapu, captured by Russia last year, arrived at the port of Ochakov. They were accompanied by tugboats “Titan”, “Haydamak” and search and rescue ship “Sapphire”, which left the ports of Odessa, the Black Sea and the South on November 16th,” the statement said.
According to the commander of the Navy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Admiral Igor Voronchenko, the Russian side dismantled the communications and navigation equipment on the ships.
“Investigative actions will be carried out by the State Bureau of Investigation and the military prosecutor’s office, after which we will have a complete picture of the condition of the transferred ships. This will allow us to hand over information to Ukrainian and international courts for a legal assessment of Russia’s actions,” said Voronchenko.
Ukraine state outlet Ukrinform also cited Voronchenko, who claimed that the Russian side even dismantled the toilets of the ships, as well as the lights and electricity sockets.
“At present, they are only approaching territorial waters. They will arrive in about 16 hours. They are being towed, the speed is very low. They do not move under their own power. Russians killed them. They removed even dome lights, sockets, and toilet bowls. We will now show everything to the whole world – Russians’ barbaric attitude to this,” Voronchenko said.
In typical absurd manner, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to return all missing equipment from the Russian ships, probably the toilet bowls as well. Whether he would wear bracelets for each of the pieces of equipment that’s gone is questionable.
“I saw the condition, there will be an investigation. We will see all the details,” he said in the military harbor in Ochakovo, where the ships arrived in the evening. The head of state added that he intends to appeal to the Russian side, “so that they return everything.”
In relation, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kateryna Zelenko said that Ukraine, at a later date, may require compensation from Russia for the seizure of the ships and the arrest of its sailors.
“This will allow us at a later stage to talk about the payment by the Russian Federation of compensation for damage suffered. We will carry out a very thorough examination of these vessels. First, we need to see what they look like, whether equipment or documentation was seized. That is, there are many elements that can then be used as evidence. And only on this basis, once we have a decision of an arbitration tribunal, we will be able to talk about any amounts,” Zelenko said.
Russia released the detained ships as a ‘goodwill gesture’ in an another attempt to de-escalate the situation in the region and find a political solution to the existing contradictions. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian side expectedly used this to ramp up its propaganda camapaign against Russia.
The release of the ships comes just ahead of another round of the Normandy Format, in which the situation in Eastern Ukraine, as well as gas transit through Ukraine will discussed on December 9th.
“The gas issue will be discussed at the Normandy format, that is, from the economic plane to the political one. Consequently, Naftogaz will be removed from the negotiation process, representatives of Germany, France and the presidents of Ukraine and Russia will decide the issue. I think there will be a comprehensive solution, at least for a year,” suggested an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies Yuri Korolchuk.
Europe insists on solving the problem of gas transit at the Normandy Format. The current transit agreement between Ukraine and Russia expires at the end of 2019. Several rounds of negotiations involving Ukraine’s Naftogaz, Russia’s Gazprom and the heads of the energy ministries of Ukraine and the Russian Federation did not lead to anything. Negotiators have only repeated the same old conditions for a while.
The topic of gas was mentioned by German Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who was on a working visit to Kiev on November 19th. The main topics for discussion with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Vadim Priestayko were interaction in the Norman format, as well as “problems of energy security in Europe.”
According to Maas, the position of Germany – gas transit through Ukraine should be extended after 2019.
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the implementation of alternative gas transit through Ukraine is very important for us. Putin made some promises to Merkel. Now it’s Russia’s turn to realize the commitments undertaken to resolve the situation in the Donbas,” Heiko Maas said.
Whether any of that will happen, or Ukraine will decide to sabotage that as well will be seen soon.
As a possible omen of what’s to come, recently a United States ship, transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Ukraine arrived at the LNG terminal Swinoujscie (Poland), located in the Baltic Sea.
“This is another step in providing assistance to Ukraine in order to achieve energy independence,” the US Embassy in Ukraine said in a statement.
On August 31st, Washington, Warsaw and Kiev signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the supply of natural gas. The document states that this should contribute to the reform of the Ukrainian gas market, the development of infrastructure for the import of raw materials into Poland, US exports, as well as gas connectors in the region.
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