BRUSSELS -- The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine says Washington and Europe are considering measures against Russia for its detention of 24 Ukrainian crew members captured in the Kerch Strait.
Speaking in a telephone briefing on January 31, Kurt Volker said Russia continues to "illegally" hold the sailors and appears to intend to hold them until after Ukraine's March 31 presidential election.
"This creates the impression that this is more of a political move to use the held sailors to put pressure on Ukraine than that there are legitimate grounds for their detention," he said.
"I can say that the U.S. and Europe are looking for what additional measures need to be taken if Russia does not return sailors. The United States will revise the 'Crimean sanctions' in February. EU discusses additional sanctions, though not yet agreed, but they in February will also be a meeting of foreign Ministers," he added.
Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships and 24 crewmen in the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov. The November 25 incident escalated tensions in the region and prompted international calls for the sailors' release.
Russia has alleged that the vessels had illegally entered Russian territorial waters near the Crimea region.
'Basket Of Options'
Kyiv has accused Moscow of stepping up "aggression" against Ukraine.
Volker said that both the United States and the European Union had looked into the possibility of measures targeting Russian ships that are servicing Russian ports on the Sea of Azov.
"I know this is among the basket of options that is being reviewed in the United States as well. We don't have any decisions on these things yet, but it is exactly in that space that I think we need to be thinking,” he said.
The EU, the United States, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over Moscow's seizure of Crimea and its support for separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
As a result of the seizure of the Ukrainian ships and sailors, NATO has pledged support for Ukraine's navy to improve its marine capabilities.