The European Union has again called on Russia to immediately and unconditionally release the 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors seized along with their three naval vessels last year near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
The message was delivered on January 30 by EU envoy to Moscow Markus Ederer to Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko, according to spokeswoman for the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.
"The Ambassador reiterated the EU’s well-known position as regards the continued illegal detention of Ukrainian servicemen by Russia, as elaborated in the Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU, as well as several public statements, including on 17 January," Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.
The Ukrainian servicemen have been held since 25 November 2018, when Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels and their crews and fired shots at them, wounding several Ukrainian sailors near the Kerch Strait.
"The European Union expects Russia to ensure unhindered and free passage through the Kerch Strait to and from the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law," the statement said, adding that Russia's use of force was "unacceptable."
"We expect Russia to immediately and unconditionally release the 24 captured Ukrainian sailors, to respect their right to legal representation and unhindered access by consular authorities, and to ensure that the injured crewmen receive appropriate medical treatment," it said.