Russia hands back captured naval ships to Ukraine before summit

Russia flags possible 2019 summit on eastern Ukraine

Russia's presidential aide Ushakov speaks with journalists after a meeting of President Putin with U.S. National Security Adviser Bolton in MoscowMore

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier yesterday that Moscow had successfully handed three naval ships it captured previous year back to Ukraine, ahead of a four-way peace summit on eastern Ukraine next month in Paris.

The Elysee Palace reminded that the French president had previously held the telephone conversations with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It also said that it had offered to drop legal claims and counter-claims by both Ukraine and Russian Federation as a pre-condition for the deal.

Earlier Sunday, a source in Crimea's security apparatus said that Ukraine's Berdyansk and the Nikopol gunboats and the Yana Kapu tugboat had left port in Kerch, Russia, escorted by Russian vessels.

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Moscow has previously returned the Ukranian sailors on board the seized ships in a prisoner swap deal with Kiev. Ukraine, in turn, has obligations to introduce European energy legislation by the end of the year.

It said they had "illegally crossed the Russian border" and been held as evidence but were no longer needed.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to host the summit in Paris, welcomed the move, saying that it would help build confidence between the two sides.

The current deal on Russian gas supplies to Ukraine and its transit via the country to Europe expires on December 31.

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The structure for the talks is known as the "Normandy format" after a first meeting brought together the four heads of state in France's Normandy region in 2014.

Russian Federation and Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners on Saturday (7 September) in a carefully-negotiated rapprochement that brought Western praise and could thaw a freeze in relations since Moscow's annexation of the Crimea region in 2014.

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of giving financial and military backing to separatists, which Russian Federation denies. The footage on the channel also showed members of the Russian military protecting the new base along with armored vehicles as well as ground support crews.

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