The USS For McHenry (LSD 43), a US Navy landing ship, entered the Black Sea on January 6th, becoming the first one to do so since the incident between the Ukrainian Navy and Russian Coast Guard south of the Kerch Straight on November 25th.
#USSFortMcHenry (LSD 43) & embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), has begun its north-bound transit of the Dardanelles Strait, en route to the Black Sea #US6thFleet #Power4Peace pic.twitter.com/jTqF64i8e1
— U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (@USNavyEurope) January 6, 2019
“USS Fort McHenry’s transit into the Black Sea reaffirms our collective resolve to Black Sea security and enhances our strong relationships with our NATO allies and partners in the region,” said Vice Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti, commander, U.S. 6th Fleet. “Our routine operations in the Black Sea also demonstrate the inherent flexibility and capability of U.S. 6th Fleet naval forces.”
The statement also reminded that the US Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea:
“The U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea consistent with international law, including the Montreux Convention. During 2018, The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Ross (DDG 71), USS Carney (DDG 64) and USS Porter (DDG 78), the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) with embarked elements of the 26th MEU, and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7), all conducted operations in the Black Sea.”
Significantly, the entry of the US Navy ship into the Black Sea takes places after martial law expired in Ukraine on December 26th. Considering the timeline, the US showcased its formal presence in the region, but did not fuel Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s attempts to escalate the conflict with Russia. According to the available data, the recent attempts of the Kiev government to trigger a new round of hostilities in eastern Ukraine or to start a hot conflict with Russia have found no support in the Trump administration so far.
On January 3rd, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Biryukov said that the country still plans to send military vessels through the Kerch Strait in the nearest future.
Earlier, on December 23rd, Ukraine’s 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.
Officials in Moscow blasted the suggestion as “being out of touch with reality.” It indicates “how dangerous the current regime in Kiev is for the world,” Russian Senator Frants Klintsevich said. “This regime is descending deeper into a maniacal condition,” he added. The HMS Echo did, in fact, visit the Black Sea and ported in Odessa, Ukraine.
Moscow has repeatedly said it has no objections to Ukrainian warships traveling between the Black and Azov Seas through the Kerch Strait, but insisted 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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