Three Ukrainian navy vessels were stopped by Russia from entering the Sea of Azov last November [Pavel Rebrov/Reuters]
Russia will return Ukrainian navy ships seized a year ago on Monday as it prepares for a summit to try and resolve the wider conflict between the two nations.
Moscow seized two Ukrainian gunboats and a tugboat in November last year as they headed through the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway giving access to the Sea of Azov that is used by Ukraine and Russia.
Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner at the time returned to Ukraine in September as part of an exchange.
“In accordance with agreements concluded with the Ukrainian side, three Ukrainian ships … are being towed from the port of Kerch to an approved transfer point,” border officials with the Russian secret service told the Interfax news agency on Sunday.
On Friday, the French presidency announced a summit involving France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in Paris on December 9 to discuss ways to resolve the wider conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The summit had been made possible by “major advances” since Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in late April, the French presidency said.
Kremlin adviser Yuri Yushakov, however, did not give a date for the summit in a Russian public television broadcast on Sunday. He said only it was “still under discussion, but certainly this year”.
Since coming to power, comedian-turned-president Zelensky has sought to revive the peace process to end a five-year-old separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed 13,000 lives.