The Russian Department of Navigation and Oceanography under the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, has barred foreign ships from entering certain parts of the Black Sea till October. A bulletin published by the department on April 14 states, “from 21:00 on April 24 to 21:00 on October 31, the exercise of the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea of the Russian Federation for foreign warships and other state vessels in three regions of the Black Sea is suspended. At the same time, it was emphasized that the zones planned for closure will not interfere with navigation through the Kerch Strait. In addition, they are all located within the territorial waters of the Russian Federation.”
The Pentagon called on the Russian Federation to abandon the ban on foreign ships from entering a number of sea areas. “We know that Russia has announced its intention to prohibit foreign ships and government ships from passing through the Kerch Strait, the Sea of Azov and parts of the Black Sea until October, citing military exercises,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “We call on Russia to end threats to courts in the region and reverse the building of military capabilities near Ukraine’s borders… We have been conducting operations of warships in the Black Sea on a routine basis, and this will continue,” he said.
The NATO to expressed concern. NATO calls for “free access to Ukraine’s ports on the Sea of Azov, as well as freedom of navigation,” NATO spokesman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has protested to the Russian Federation over the closure of part of the Black Sea water area, indicating that this was done allegedly under the pretext of conducting military exercises. At the same time, the Kerch Strait itself and the approach to it, according to the bulletin, do not fall into the indicated zones, and all areas planned for closure extend only to the outer border of the territorial sea of the Russian Federation.
The European Union too has opposed the closure. “The intention of the Russian Federation to close certain regions of the Black Sea by October 2021 under the pretext of military exercises is very alarming, especially against the background of the situation on the state border between Ukraine and Russia and in the illegally annexed Crimea. This decision violates the freedom of navigation guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The European Union expects that Russia will ensure unimpeded and free passage to the Sea of Azov and back, in accordance with international law, “said EU spokesman Peter Stano.
The Russian Black Sea fleet has already started its drill after Turkey announced that the United States had notified its plans to send two warships to the area this Wednesday and Thursday. The detachment includes the Admiral Makarov frigate equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, the Grayvoron and Vyshny Volochek small missile ships, as well as large landing ships, the Samum air cushion missile ship and the Ivan Golubets minesweeper.
Russia has amassed troops near the Ukrainian border alarming Ukraine and NATO countries. Kiev estimates that Russia has deployed 41,000 troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and 42,000 in Crimea. The Russia’s defense minister has tried to underplay by stating that the troops were part of two-week readiness exercises. He also said that troops and three airborne formations have been deployed in response to NATO’s threatening activities near Russia. In march, the Black Sea Fleet said it deployed all six of its submarines as NATO kicked off drills in the area.
The Russian Air Force is also fielding its aircrafts. More than fifty Russian fighters, bombers and attack aircraft are currently involved in exercises over the Black Sea with missile launches and bombing, the press service of the Southern Military District (YuVO) reported.
“The aircraft of the operational-tactical aviation of the Air Force and Air Defense Association and the naval aviation of the Black Sea Fleet will be involved in the exercises. These are Su-27SM and Su-30SM fighters, Su-24M and Su-34 bombers and Su-25SM3 attack aircraft. The aircraft during the exercise will carry out rocket launches and bombing at sea targets,” says the release.
The press release noted that the pilots of the 4th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense and the Black Sea Fleet “carry out the tasks of escorting naval strike groups and acting as part of reconnaissance strike complexes while ensuring security in the Black Sea.”