Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on Wednesday that the Ukrainian government was “displeased” that Russian troops did not kill Ukranian service members detained in the Kerch Strait last month.
During his annual end of year press conference, Putin posited that the Ukrainian government sent the soldiers into the Sea of Azov, where the Russians intercepted them at the Kerch Strait before being allowed in, with the intention of inciting Russia to kill them.
Last month, Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off the Crimean Peninsula accusing them of illegally crossing waters and sparking a new period of tension between the two countries. Ukrainian news agency UNIAN asked Putin about Russia’s plans to use the sailors as a bargaining chip in exchange for the release of Russian citizens in Ukraine.
“Medvedchuk has recently visited Moscow and raised an issue of the release of the Ukrainian service members detained in the Kerch Strait,” Putin said. “However, as I’ve already said the issue could be solved after the end of the criminal probe.”
“As for the Ukrainian service members’ future, they were sent out with anticipation that some of them would be killed. I can see that huge displeasure among the (Ukrainian) ruling quarters was caused by the fact that none had been killed,” he continued. “Thank God, this did not happen. The investigation is underway and after the criminal inquiry it will become clear what to do with this afterward.”
Putin went on to argue that Ukrainian President Peter Poroshenko had sought to use the Kerch Strait incident to boost his popularity ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
“The provocation was aimed at raising tensions,” Putin said. “It is clear why our Ukrainian counterparts need it. Elections will soon take place there.”
“They want to raise tensions in order to increase the rating of one of the presidential candidates – I mean the incumbent president,” he continued. “This is wrong. It will do good neither to their people nor to their country. In this sense, he achieved his goal but at the expense of the country’s interests.”
The incident has caused significant tensions between the two countries, four years after Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Last month, Poroshenko warned that it could lead to a “full-scale war with the Russian Federation,” while also declaring a 30-day state of martial law across the Ukranian border regions.
“The threat of an invasion of Russian armed forces on Ukrainian territory still exists and we must be prepared for it,” Poroshenko was quoted as saying this week.