Russian senator says US warship in Black Sea should keep its distance

File photo. Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) docked in Riga, Latvia, 20 April 2016. [Valda Kalnina/EPA/EFE]

Visits to the Black Sea by US warships have nothing to do with US security and are motivated by domestic politics, prominent Russian senator Alexei Pushkov said on Sunday (20 January), warning they should stay away from the Russian coast.

The US guided-missile destroyer Donald Cook began moving towards the Black Sea on Saturday, “to conduct maritime security operations and enhance regional maritime stability, combined readiness and naval capability”, a US navy statement said.

The Russian Black Sea fleet began monitoring the warship once it entered the region, RIA news agency cited Russia’s National Defence Control Centre as saying on Saturday.

“US warships are becoming frequent visitors to the Black Sea. These visits have nothing to do with US security,” Pushkov, a member of Russia’s Upper House Commission on Information Policy, wrote on his Twitter page in Russian.

“They flaunt their flag, send us a signal, and appease their own senators, who are demanding they send a whole military fleet to the Black Sea. They should keep away from our coastline,” he wrote.

This week a court in Russia extended by three months the arrest of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured along with their ships in November in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. They stand accused of illegally crossing into Russian territory.

Putin defends seizure of Ukrainian ships, Poroshenko invites NATO in Azov Sea

President Vladimir Putin insisted on Wednesday (28 November) that Russian forces were in the right to seize three Ukrainian ships last weekend, while his Ukrainian colleague Petro Poroshenko invited NATO ships in the Azov Sea.

The United States and European Union have called on Russia to release the men, but the Kremlin has said they must be put on trial. No trial date has been set.

EU calls for de-escalation after Russia fires on and seizes Ukrainian ships in Azov Sea

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday (25 November) after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, in a move that risks igniting a dangerous new crisis between the two countries. The EU has called for de-escalation.

According to the Montreux international convention, the US warship can stay in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days, RIA cited the Russian defence control center as saying.

“Our arrival into the Black Sea will showcase the navy’s interoperability in pursuit of common security objectives, enabling us to respond effectively to future crises or deterring aggression,” Matthew J. Powel, commanding officer of the Donald Cook, said in a statement.

Germany urges Russia, Ukraine to de-escalate conflict

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday urged both Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine and said France and Germany were ready to help by monitoring naval traffic near the Crimean coast.

Speaking in Kyiv after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin, Maas again called for Moscow to release of the crews of three Ukrainian navy vessels it seized in November off Crimea. He said Russia must allow ships to pass through the Kerch Strait that leads to the Sea of Azov.

“All sides must contribute to the de-escalation of the conflicts,” said Maas in Kyiv after meeting with Lavrov earlier in the day in Moscow.

Klimkin welcomed the offer to monitor shipping traffic through the Kerch Strait. Lavrov told reporters President Vladimir Putin had agreed to a proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for German experts to monitor the strait a month ago, but they had still not arrived.

It was not immediately clear if French participation had previously been offered.

Events in the Kerch Strait have exacerbated tensions between Ukraine and Russia over the Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and violence between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Maas bemoaned lack of progress in implementing the so-called Minsk peace accord aimed at ending the violence in eastern Ukraine, and also took aim at Kyiv for what he called insufficient progress on combating corruption.

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