Russia’s Federation Council on Wednesday approved a statement saying that violations of the rules of navigation by Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait are fraught with a military conflict with Russia in which NATO may be involved.
NATO plans to expand its surveillance in the Black Sea to ensure that Ukrainian ships travel safely through an area effectively controlled by Russia, a top U.S. official said on April 2.
The Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, has become a flashpoint between Moscow and the West after Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors in November. Ukraine has accused Moscow of military aggression, while Russia claims the boats illegally crossed its border near Crimea.
The U.S. plans to offer a package to NATO defense ministers that “beefs up surveillance — both air surveillance as well as more of the NATO country ships going into the Black Sea” in support of Ukraine.
"We are going to make sure that we have the capability to deter a very aggressive Russia,” US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters on Tuesday, April 2. She claimed that a special “package” had been designed “to assure that there is a safe passage for Ukrainian vessels” through the Kerch Strait, a narrow waterway connecting the Black and Azov Seas, which Russia controls.
One day later, ON April 3, Russia warned it will “harshly suppress” any attempt by NATO warships to enter the area off Crimea, after the US said the military alliance could act to ensure the free passage of Ukrainian vessels.
Today, April 10, the Russian Federation Council’s statement directly used the phrase "military conflict" and also made clear Russia understands that conflict "may involve NATO."
Here is the statement:
“The passing of Ukrainian ships through the Kerch Strait is not a question of the balance of force or of NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region. It is exclusively a problem of Ukraine’s compliance with the established procedures that are well-known to it and had been successfully used by it up to November 2018. Ukraine’s attempts to bypass these procedures are fraught with the risk of a military conflict between Ukraine and Russia in which NATO may be involved,” the Federation Council said.
The senators pointed out that after stepping up activity in the previously calm Baltic Region NATO was now building up military presence in the Black Sea region. “NATO’s support for Georgia during the tragic events in August 2008 and now for Ukraine, in particular, on November 25, 2018 when Ukrainian naval ships illegally crossed the state border of Russia in the Kerch Strait area incites the leaders of these two countries, certain about their impunity, to carry out more adventures,” the statement runs.
According to Deutsche Welle, Russia is now heavily militarizing Crimea and the Black Sea. Some 28,000 Russian soldiers are stationed on the peninsula. Russia has practically doubled its military budget over the past 10 years.
The tensions between Russia and Ukraine are not part of a frozen conflict: they can flare up with very little warning.
There have been growing tensions between the two sides over navigation in the Kerch Strait area and seized Ukrainian naval vessels.
Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to occupy the Sea of Azov and damage Ukraine’s economy by hindering access its ports.