U.S. diplomacy on Monday denounced the “unprovoked escalation” with Russia’s decision to impose restrictions on naval ships and state vessels in three areas off Crimea, the US State Department spokesman said in a statement.
This is “yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine,” Ned Price said. He stressed Washington’s “deep concern” and reiterated its call for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the Russian-Ukrainian border.
On Friday, Russia announced that it was “halting” for six months, that is, from April 24 to October 31, “passage through the territorial sea of the Russian Federation for foreign military ships and other state vessels.”
The ban covers three maritime zones, including the “triangle” off the Kerch Peninsula, near the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov and is considered critical to Ukraine’s grain and steel exports.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have reached a crescendo for weeks, with Kiyv accusing Moscow of seeking a casus belli to invade while the Kremlin accusing Kyiv of preparing to launch an attack on pro-Russian separatists in the east.
The United States “call on Russia to cease its harassment of vessels in the region and reverse its build-up of forces along Ukraine’s border,” Ned Price said.
NATO member states on Friday expressed “concern” over Russia’s naval manoeuvres and demanded that Moscow guarantee “free access” to Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov.
The Russian forces on the Ukrainian border —more than 100,000 troops, according to estimates from European Union— are larger than those gathered during the invasion of Crimea in 2014, the US Pentagon estimated on Monday.