Russia 'to return three captured ships to Ukraine'

17 November 2019, 13:49 | Updated: 17 November 2019, 15:40

Russia will return three captured ships to Ukraine, it has been reported, a year after it captured the vessels off the coast of Crimea.

Officials have already moved them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Russian news agencies said, citing Crimea's border guard service.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, said they saw tug boats pulling the three ships through the Kerch Strait towards the Black Sea.

In late November last year, Russia opened fire on the vessels and seized them, in what at the time was perceived to be a major escalation in tensions.

At the time, it resulted in Ukraine's then president Petro Poroshenko calling an emergency session of his war cabinet and asking parliament to vote on whether to impose martial law.

Since then, Mr Poroshenko has been replaced by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected president in April, promising to attempt to thaw relations with Moscow.

It comes on the day a Kremlin aide said a summit between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine to try to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine was possible this year.

France said on Friday that the so-called Normandy summit would take place in Paris on 9 December.

Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told a news show on local TV network Russia-1: "I think there will be a chance to organise (the summit) this year. I can't say the exact date, because it is still under discussion, but, obviously, this year."

It is the latest example of improving relations between Moscow and Kiev.

In September, Moscow and Kiev exchanged prisoners and this month Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels began withdrawing from a village in the disputed Donbass region.

When the ships were seized in November last year, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said it used weapons after the Ukrainian ships ignored demands to stop and that it impounded the vessels because they had illegally crossed the border.

A day later it released statements by three captured Ukrainian sailors and a Crimea court ordered three of the 24 Ukrainians captured on Sunday to be detained for two months.