US may increase military presence in Black Sea

Washington: The US may consider the possibility of increasing its military presence in the Black Sea, US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker said.

“As far as the Black Sea goes, Turkey plays a critically important role,” Volker stated. “We also want to work with Turkey on security in the Black Sea and on freedom of navigation.”

“That said, I think that there are things that we should now be looking at that maybe we weren’t looking at before – to increase presence in the Black Sea, whether on a bilateral basis or under EU auspices,” the US diplomat pointed out.

In response to the question about the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) and its presence in the Sea of Azov, Volker stated that while the SMM has the mandate to work in Ukraine, which includes its territorial waters, they currently do not have enough resources to expand their presence.

On November 26, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, endorsed President Pyotr Poroshenko’s decree on imposing a 30-day martial law in the Vinnitsa, Lugansk, Nikolayevsk, Odessa, Sumy, Kharkov, Chernigov, Donetsk, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, as well as Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Sea of Azov. Initially, Poroshenko sought to impose martial law for 60 days, but this put into question holding the March presidential elections and sparked a public outcry.

The pretext for the decision to declare martial law was an incident in the Kerch Strait on November 25, when three Ukrainian warships, en route from Odessa to Mariupol, illegally crossed Russia’s state border, entered Russia’s territorial waters and started performing dangerous maneuvers.

Despite the repeated warnings and demands to stop, the Ukrainian vessels continued their way, forcing Russia to use weapons. All three Ukrainian ships were detained in the Black Sea. Three Ukrainian servicemen were slightly wounded and received medical assistance, and their lives are not under threat. A criminal case has been launched over the violation of Russia’s state border. Moscow slammed the incident as a provocation. Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors have been detained in Russia until January 25, 2019.