Russia has announced plans to block foreign naval ships and state vessels in parts of the Black Sea for six months as it holds military maneuvers. The areas are around occupied Crimea, and effectively block passage through the Kerch Strait. The United States and its Allies in NATO and the European Union agree the Russian plan is provocative and destabilizing.
In a statement, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the United States regards the Russian move with “deep concern.”
“Russia has a history of taking aggressive actions against Ukrainian vessels and impeding access to Ukraine’s ports in the Sea of Azov, impacting Ukraine’s international commerce,” he wrote.
In a separate statement, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said, “Russia’s ongoing militarization of Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are further threats to Ukraine’s independence, and undermine the stability of the broader region. We call on Russia to ensure free access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and allow freedom of navigation.”
The European Union said the Russian plan was “highly worrying” and also called on Moscow to allow the free passage of ships in accordance with international law.
The Russian move to restrict navigation in parts of the Black Sea through October comes at the same time as the largest troop build-up near the Ukrainian border by Russia since the beginning of its conflict with Ukraine. That conflict, which began in 2014 with Russia’s occupation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, has led to the deaths of more than 14,000 people. And it continues as the Ukrainian military defends its territory against Russia-led forces entrenched in parts of eastern Ukraine under Russia’s control since 2014.
State Department Spokesperson Price said, “The United States reaffirms its unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters. T he United States does not, and will never, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea.”
Mr. Price added, “We commend Ukraine for its continued restraint in the face of Russian provocations, and call on Russia to cease its harassment of vessels in the region and reverse its build-up of forces along Ukraine’s border and in occupied Crimea.”