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Russia ’Partially’ Unblocks Ukrainian Azov Sea Ports

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Russia started allowing some ships to enter Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, Kiev said Tuesday, in what could signal an easing of tensions in the flashpoint area.

Ukraine earlier accused Moscow of blocking merchant vessels from entering and leaving the ports.

In late November the situation in the waters escalated when Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and arrested 24 sailors in the first open military conflict between the countries since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

"The Berdyansk and Mariupol ports have been partially unblocked," Ukraine's infrastructure minister Volodymyr Omelyan said.

The functioning of the two main Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov is crucial for the country's exports.

"Ships are coming and going through the Kerch Strait towards Ukrainian ports... movement has been partially restored," a statement from the ministry quoted Omelyan as saying.

However, 17 ships were still waiting to enter the Sea of Azov and one was waiting to leave, he added.

The minister said he hoped the ports would be fully unblocked in the coming days, and the arrested sailors would be released.

Kiev blamed Moscow for halting the movement of dozens of vessels through the narrow strait connecting the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov.

Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team