Russia said Monday it had handed over three navy ships it seized a year ago from Ukraine, in the latest move to ease tensions between the two countries ahead of a crucial summit.
Russia’s foreign ministry said that the ships — two gunboats and a tugboat — had been handed over to Ukraine.
It said they had “illegally crossed the Russian border” and been held as evidence but were no longer needed.
Russian forces boarded and took control of the vessels as they headed through the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway giving access to the Sea of Azov that is used by Ukraine and Russia.
They captured 24 Ukrainian sailors, who were returned to Ukraine as part of the September prisoner swap.
Border officials had said on Sunday that the ships would be returned and local television showed footage of them being towed by the Russian coastguard through the Kerch Strait.
The election of Volodymyr Zelensky, a television comedian who shocked the country’s elite by winning the presidency in April, has raised hopes the conflict with pro-Moscow separatists can finally be resolved.
Zelensky has said ending the war — which has left some 13,000 dead — is his top priority.
He announced last Friday that he would hold his first face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on December 9.
The talks, which will also include French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will be the highest-level negotiations on the conflict since 2016.