One more US Navy vessel, landing ship USS Fort McHenry, is about to arrive in the Black Sea where tensions are running high after three Ukrainian ships violated Russian territorial waters in late November and have been arrested.
USS Fort McHenry entered the Dardanelles Strait, separating the Aegean and Azov Seas, the US 6th Fleet said in a statement on Sunday. The warships arrival “reaffirms our collective resolve to Black Sea security and enhances our strong relationships with our NATO allies and partners in the region,” Vice Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti, 6th Fleet commander, said.
Florida-based Fort McHenry is on a regularly scheduled deployment with the US 6th Fleet to “conduct operations with allies and partners to advance security and stability in Europe,” the statement read.
It also reminded that the US Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea, saying it acts in accordance with international law. Six American military vessels carried out missions in the area in 2018, including guided-missile destroyers USS Ross, USS Carney and USS Porter as well as command ship USS Mount Whitney, dock landing ship USS Oak Hill and expeditionary fast transport USNS Carson City.
Waters remain turbulent in the Black Sea after three Ukrainian ships violated the Russian maritime border in the Kerch Strait, between Crimea and mainland Russia, on November 25. The provocation by Kiev led to a lengthy naval chase and culminated in Russian coastguards using force to stop the perpetrators.
There were no fatalities as a result of the standoff, but the Ukrainian ships were seized and the sailors aboard are now awaiting trial in Russia.
The incident, which occurred in the area that used to be Russian territorial waters even before its reunification with Crimea in 2014, was branded an “aggression” in Washington and saw a much-anticipated summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin canceled.
US Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, urged the US to “increase presence in the Black Sea” in cooperation with Turkey or the EU.
Ukraines Deputy Minister for Occupied Territories, Yury Hrymchak, went even further, suggesting that the British Navy should sail one of its vessels through the Kerch Straight for the sake of freedom of navigation. “It would be interesting to see how will [the Russians] react,” he said.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian presidential aide Yury Biryukov announced that Kiev was again planning to send its ships through the Kerch Strait.
Were going to do it no matter if the Russians like it or not.
Moscow has repeatedly said it has no objections to Ukrainian warships traveling between the Black and Azov Seas through the Kerch Strait, but insists that it should be done in accordance with the agreed procedure when Kiev informs the Russian side of its navigation plans in advance. Russia also considers the presence of the US and NATO ships in the Black Sea as only serving to increase tensions and put Europe at risk of a military conflict.
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