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EU ambassadors approve sanctions on eight more Russians over Kerch Strait incident

Russian construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, Sept. 15, 2016. (en.Kremlin.ru/Released)

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

EU ambassadors have agreed to impose asset freezes and visa bans on eight Russians involved in the capture and jailing of 24 Ukrainian seamen in an incident near the Kerch Strait in November, according to several sources familiar with the discussions.

The sanctions backed by the ambassadors on March 6 are measures that are expected to be formally approved next week, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

After that, the eight Russians will be added to the EU list of people and entities who have been hit with sanctions for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The list, which was created after Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and backed separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in a war that has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014, now consists of 163 individuals and 44 entities. The sanctions against them will be prolonged by six months next week.

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The additional eight Russians are either officers who were involved in the Kerch Strait incident or Russian judges who oversaw the subsequent jailing of the Ukrainians, who remain in pretrial detention in the Lefortovo jail in Moscow.

The incident occurred on November 25 when Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on and seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels and their crews while they were on their way from the Black Sea to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov. Moscow accuses them of illegally entering Russian territorial waters, which they deny.

The incident increased tension over the Kerch Strait, which is the sole passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and runs between Russia and Russian-held Crimea.