This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko says he is in the “final stage” of negotiations to return three naval vessels that Russia impounded in November 2018 in the Black Sea after firing on them and taking 24 Ukrainian crewmen captive.
In an interview with RFE/RL on October 10, he said there was “interaction” between Ukraine and Russia on the matter.
“They [the vessels] will be returned in the near future,” Prystayko said, adding that the “technical aspects” of the talks are being held with Russia’s naval command.
Prystayko has already expressed Ukraine’s readiness to retrieve the boats, saying “just give us the exact coordinates where they will be anchored and the time when we can pick them up.”
Kyiv is keen to discover in what condition the boats are in, “especially marks from the shots that were fired at them” by the Russians, Prystayko said, “but something tells me they won’t be there when we pick them up.”
Ukrainian naval commander Ihor Vornchenko has previously said that Russia doesn’t want to return the vessels because “this is direct evidence of Russian aggression.”
Moscow maintains that the three vessels were sailing in its territorial waters and that it had the right to shoot at them and detain the crewmen for not obeying orders in the sea.
In turn, Kyiv insists that the Black Sea consists of open, shared waters based on bilateral and international agreements.
On May 25 the UN’s maritime tribunal ordered Russia to immediately release the crewmen and impounded boats, a ruling that Moscow has ignored.
On September 7, Russia and Ukraine each exchanged 35 prisoners, of whom 24 were the detained Ukrainian sailors.
Prystayko told RFE/RL that the move didn’t qualify Russia as obeying the UN tribunal’s ruling.
The whereabouts of the vessels have been unknown after Kyiv noticed that they disappeared on June 25 from Kerch on the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian region that Russia took over in early 2014.