The United States denounced on Monday the Russian decision to limit the navigation of foreign military and official ships in three areas off Crimea, the spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement.
“This represents yet another unprovoked escalation in the current Moscow campaign aimed at weakening and destabilizing Ukraine,” Ned Price said, highlighting Washington’s “deep concern” as large Russian troops have been positioned in the border with Ukraine.
Russia announced Friday “suspend” for six months, from April 24 to October 31, “passage through the territorial waters of the Russian Federation for military ships and other state buildings.” This suspension concerns three zones, including one off the Kerch peninsula, near the straits of the same name, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and which is of crucial importance for the exports of cereals or steel produced in Ukraine.
US “calls on Russia to stop harassing ships”
Russian-Ukrainian tensions have been growing for several weeks, Ukraine accusing Moscow of seeking a casus belli to invade it and Russia accusing Kiev of preparing an offensive against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The United States “calls on Russia to stop harassing ships in the region and to reduce the number of its troops along the border with Ukraine”, said the spokesperson for the State Department.
NATO member countries had already expressed Friday their “concern” about Moscow’s maritime maneuvers and demanded that Russia guarantee “free access” to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.
Russian military deployment more massive than in 2014
Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, estimated at 100,000 troops by the European Union, would be larger than during the invasion of Crimea in 2014, the Pentagon also estimated on Monday. The United States considers this deployment to be “very worrying” and calls on Russia “to clarify its intentions,” continued the Pentagon spokesman. “We do not believe that this deployment is conducive to security and stability on along the border with Ukraine and certainly not in occupied Crimea. ”
“The Russians claim that these are exercises. It is not very clear to us that this is the objective, ”he added.