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Bolton: No Trump-Putin meeting while Russia holds Ukrainian ships, sailors

U.S President Donald Trump, left, and John Bolton, right, the national security adviser, attend a briefing from Senior Military Leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House on April 9, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says there will be no meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin while Moscow still holds the Ukrainian ships and sailors it seized near Crimea.

“I don’t see circumstances in the foreseeable future where such a meeting could take place until the ships and the crews are released,” Bolton told reporters on December 13.

Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships on November 25 and arrested 24 sailors in the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov.

Moscow alleged that the vessels had illegally entered Russian territorial waters near the Crimea region, which Russia occupied and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukraine and most UN member states do not recognize the annexation.

NATO has pledged support for Ukraine’s navy, with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying on December 13 that “Russia must immediately release the sailors and ships they seized and allow freedom of navigation including free access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.”

“This is part of Russia’s pattern of destabilizing behavior,” Stoltenberg added. “We strongly condemn Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.”

Putin and Trump briefly discussed the matter on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina on December 1, the Kremlin said.

On the eve of the summit, Trump announced he would not hold a formal one-on-one meeting with Putin, citing the Kerch Strait incident.