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Amidst Ukraine Tensions, Russia Sends More Warships to the Black Sea

kerch strait
The strategic Kerch Strait Bridge (satellite file image)

Published Apr 18, 2021 10:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

Days after announcing a partial closure of the strategic Kerch Strait, Russia has dispatched two additional warships to the Black Sea - the latest development in a large-scale military buildup on Ukraine's borders. 

The U.S. Navy recently ordered the destroyers USS Roosevelt (DDG ) and USS Donald Cook (  ) to the region, but the Pentagon canceled the deployment last week due to high tensions between Russia and U.S.-allied Ukraine. The transit was deemed too sensitive for relations with Moscow at the moment, an official told Politico. The Royal Navy is still said to be sending one Type 45 destroyer and one Type 23 frigate in May. 

According to Reuters, the new Russian arrivals in the Black Sea include two Ropucha-class tank landing ships from Russia's Northern Fleet. Two more landing ships from the Baltic Fleet are expected soon. According to RIA Novosti, 15 more small Russian vessels have transited also from the Caspian into the Black Sea for an exercise. 

Russia has also ordered the closure of waters near the strategic Kerch Strait to all transits by military or government vessels of other nations, effective immediately through October 2021. The action effectively cuts off two strategic ports in Eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists are waging a long-running, low-level campaign against central Ukrainian government control. 

The Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs issued an immediate objection to the unilateral announcement. 

"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," the ministry said in a statement. "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."

In 2018, Russian border forces temporarily closed the waterway under the bridge, effectively cutting off access to the Sea of Azov for Ukrainian traffic. Shipping came to a near halt at the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, with no vessels in or out until the ban was lifted.