MOSCOW — The Ukrainian Security Service said Thursday it had seized a Russian tanker in a Black Sea port, a move that could undermine an anticipated prisoner swap between the two countries.
The security service said it detained the Russian tanker in a Ukrainian port on Wednesday. Authorities said the tanker was used in a Russian operation to block Ukrainian vessels from sailing through the Kerch Strait in November.
The 10-member crew was allowed to disembark and leave Ukraine since they were not involved in November’s incident, Russian human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova said.
Russian ships fired on and seized Ukrainian vessels on Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait, located between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Russia insisted the boats violated its territorial waters and detained the 24 Ukrainians onboard.
Ukraine said the vessels had been in international waters. The aggression sparked a crisis amid already strained relations between the two countries.
Officials both in Russia and Ukraine said earlier this month that they are preparing a major prisoner swap that would include the Ukrainian crew members.
But the move by the SBU, which is still led by an ally of former president Petro Poroshenko, could jeopardize that.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office did not have immediate comment on the incident. Russian officials protested the tanker’s seizure, saying it would dampen the chances of the prisoner swap.
“This is very bad news,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency Thursday. “Someone in Kiev wants a tough throwback to their own provocation on Nov. 25.”
Zelenskiy called Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month for their first conversation since Zelenskiy took office in May. The Ukrainian president, who was a popular comedian before he won an April election, made securing the release of the Ukrainian sailors one of his first priorities.