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Russia attempts to sneak 9 Crimean sailors out of Ukraine

Russia attempts to sneak Crimean sailors out of Ukraine
Matthew Kupfer April 8 2018

Russian diplomats have attempted to sneak nine Crimean sailors through a Ukrainian border checkpoint into southern Russia under the cover of diplomatic immunity, according to the Ukrainian State Border Service.

The unsuccessful crossing comes as the latest development in an unusual legal case involving sea borders, citizenship issues, and the lasting problems caused by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

On March 25, Ukraine’s maritime border guards detained the fishing boat Nord, which sails under the Russian flag, in the Ukrainian waters of the Azov Sea. The ship was registered in occupied Crimea.

By sailing into Ukrainian waters, the ship’s crew had “violated the exit regime from the temporarily occupied Crimea. They all had so-called Russian passports issued in the city of Kerch,” the border service said in a statement, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

On March 30, a Ukrainian court arrested the Nord. The next day, the Ukrainian Crimean prosecutor’s office pressed charges against the ship’s captain, Volodymyr Horbenko, for allegedly violating the entry and exit regime of Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories. If found guilty, the captain could face up to five years in prison.

On April 6, a court in the city of Kherson fined the nine other crew members. However, the court did not return their passports and required them to come to the Kherson branch office of Ukraine’s Security Service during the next week to testify as witnesses in the case against Horbenko.

But Russia’s General Consulate in Ukraine had other ideas. On the night of April 7, two Volkswagens with diplomatic plates approached the Hoptivka border checkpoint in Kharkiv Oblast. Instead of passports, the cars’ passengers presented official documents stating that they were Russian citizens returning to Russia.

However, the border guards recognized the passengers as crew members of the Nord — whom the Ukrainian authorities consider to be Ukrainian citizens.

“In other words, at passport control, they presented documents that do not give them the right to cross the border,” the border service told Ukrainska Pravda. The guards did not allow them to exit Ukraine, and charged the sailors with illegally attempting to cross the border.

Russia has also tried to send the sailors their Ukrainian passports, according to Borys Babin, the Ukrainian president’s permanent representative to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

“According to the available information, the occupation authorities are urgently trying to pass the crew members their legal documents (Ukrainian passports) from Crimea through lawyers and diplomats,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Because they, of course, have them at home and, using [the passports] they will be allowed through the checkpoint into Crimea without a problem.”

Babin stressed that the State Border Service has a strict policy not to allow anyone to cross the border into Crimea on documents issued by the occupation authorities.