The U.S. has canceled plans to send two U.S. warships into the Black Sea amid a Russian troop buildup up on the Ukrainian border. Hours after the canceled U.S. deployment, Russia closed off access to the Kerch Strait, blocking access to two Ukrainian ports.
Within hours of the decision to cancel the Black Sea deployment, Russia moved to block access to the Kerch Strait, which serves as a key access point to the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk.
Interfax reported the closure, and a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying, “Such actions of the Russian Federation are yet another attempt, in violation of the norms and principles of international law, to usurp the sovereign rights of Ukraine as a coastal state, since it is Ukraine that has the right to regulate shipping in these waters of the Black Sea. Also, this step is a gross violation of the right to freedom of navigation, guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. According to the Convention, the Russian Federation should not impede or interfere with transit passage through the international strait to ports in the Sea of Azov.”
The Russian closure of the Kerch state will block Ukrainian and other foreign warships from accessing the waterway, and the closure will remain in effect until October.
The Ukrainian navy also reported Russian Coast Guard ships sailed in provocative maneuvers around Ukrainian Navy ships on Thursday. The Ukrainian navy said the incident took place 25 miles from the Kerch Strait while its ships were escorting commercial vessels leaving Ukrainian ports.
A U.S. defense official told Politico the two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Donald Cook and USS Roosevelt were operating in the Mediterranean Sea and were still a few days away from the Black Sea when the decision was made to cancel the Black Sea deployment.
The defense official told Politico the Biden administration decided to cancel the U.S. Black Sea deployment to avoid escalating tensions with Russia, as thousands of Russian troops continue to gather on the Ukraine-Russia border.
During an official National Security Council (NSC) media phone conference on Thursday, a senior Biden administration official said, “We do not desire a downward spiral; we think we can and should avoid that.”
Last week, Turkey confirmed the U.S. had submitted a notice to send two warships into the Black Sea through the Turkish-controlled Bosporus Strait, but Politico has since reported the U.S. had notified Turkey that it was canceling the Black Sea deployment. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told NTV TV that the U.S. withdrew its notice to pass through the strait on Wednesday.
While the Biden administration withdrew the notice to Turkey to send the two U.S. warships into the Black Sea, the Biden administration did unveil a wave of new sanctions against Russia on Thursday morning. Russia has since vowed retaliation for the Biden administration’s actions.