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Merkel urges Putin to release Ukraine sailors

December 11, 2018

The chancellor told her Russian counterpart that measures needed to be taken to ensure "smooth passage" through the Kerch Strait. But stopping conflict in the Sea of Azov wasn't the only thing the two leaders discussed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin
Image: picture alliance/dpa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Moscow to release 24 Ukrainian sailors during a call with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a press briefing.

"The conversation focused on the situation in the Kerch Strait," Seibert said late Monday. Late last month, Russian warships captured three Ukrainian naval vessels as they crossed through the strategic passageway. Russian authorities detained the Ukrainian soldiers on board, citing military provocations.

Merkel told Putin that measures needed to be taken to ensure "smooth passage" through the strait after passage was blocked off, cutting off Ukrainian port cities on the Sea of Azov, such as Mariupol.

The German chancellor had previously urged Russia and Ukraine to deescalate the situation, saying there is "no military solution" to the conflict between both countries.

Read more: Ukraine port city struggles to weather clash with Russia

Ukraine worried about Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Strategic relations

Merkel also discussed Russian gas transit via Ukraine "after 2019." Kyiv has voiced concern that a German-Russian pipeline known as Nord Stream 2 would become an economic and security risk.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal told DW she is concerned about Germany's continued involvement in building the pipeline, which is set to become operational next year.

When asked whether Ukrainian opposition to the German-Russian pipeline was about business or security, Zerkal said: "For us, it's about security, and it's definitely not about the revenues. It's about the guarantee of our security and the pipeline we have is a kind of guarantee for us." She said lost revenues would likely amount to the cost of maintaining Ukraine's armed forces.

But German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said earlier this month that Germany would not moderate its commitment to the pipeline, saying Berlin has received assurances from the Kremlin concerning Russian gas transiting to Europe via Ukraine.

Read more: German industry defends Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

Disinformation in the run-up

In the run-up to the clash in the Kerch Strait, Moscow had launched a disinformation campaign about Ukraine and NATO's intentions for the Sea of Azov, a senior EU official said on Monday.

"If any of you thought that that incident, as it were, came out of the blue, you would be wrong," EU security commissioner Julian King told a conference hosted by German Marshall Fund think tank.

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"The disinformation campaign began much earlier, more than a year ago, when Russian media started pushing claims that the authorities in Kiev were dredging the seabed in the Sea of Azov in preparation for a NATO fleet to take up residence."

Since the 2016 US presidential election, Russia has been accused of launching massive disinformation campaigns aimed at manipulating public opinion.

ls/cmk (dpa, AFP)

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