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article imageUS tries to pressure Germany into provoking Russia in Crimea

By Ken Hanly     Mar 9, 2019 in Politics
The US attempted to pressure Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in February to conduct a naval maneuver through the Kerch Strait separating the Crimean peninsula from the Russian mainland.
US President Mike Pence said to have exerted the pressure
The move would be a sign that Western powers would not surrender access through the strait. However, such a move could provoke Russia and even lead to the ships being confronted by Russian vessels if they did not get authorization to pass through the strait. Three anonymous officials familiar with the issue reported this according to Bloomberg. The pressure was exerted at a February 16 meeting at the Munich Security Conference by US Vice President Mike Pence.
Merkel refuses to send ships
Although a spokesperson for the chancellor declined to comment on the issue. The officials claimed the refused on the grounds that Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had reservations about any such move. Even so, Merkel is said to have been willing to have carried out such a maneuver together with France but Poroshenko had said that this would not be sufficient to solve his problem. The Kerch Strait is just three kilometers wide and has been a flashpoint as Russia tries to consolidate control over the Crimean peninsula which is now part of Russia according their position after a vote by Crimeans to join Russia. However, the EU and the US do not recognize the annexation and have sanctioned Russia as a result.
Poroshenko wants the strait to be open permanently not a one time provocative event. France also apparently would not take part, as it considered the move too provocative according to another official. With France's refusal to join in the idea was dropped. Russia has had control of Crimea since 2014. It completed a road bridge last year across the strait and is also planning a rail link.
Last year Russian forces fired on and seized 3 Ukrainian ships trying to traverse the straits without authorization. Russia has refused to release 24 Ukrainian sailors it captured at the time. The Ukraine has been seeking international aid to keep the strait open but the country's position on sending convoys through the strait has been unclear. The US was keen to send ships to the area after the confrontation.
Legal basis for action unclear
A 2003 treaty between Russia and the Ukraine determined the Sea of Azov which is joined to the Black Sea by the strait is an internal body of water. Any third party military presence in the strait would need to have the consent of both parties to the agreement. The US destroyer USS Donald Cook is deployed in the Black Sea just to the south of the strait. The US says that NATO and US forces had beefed up their presence in the area as a signal to Putin.
General Curtis Scaparrotti of the US European Command told the US Armed Services Committee: “They, frankly, don’t like us in the Black Sea. It’s international waters -- and we should sail and fly there.”
As a recent article puts it: "This is a common naval tactic for US officials in recent years. Officials have been fond of sending the US Navy on “freedom of navigation” trips to areas claimed by rival powers. The big difference here was that they figured on sending German boats instead of American ones, which Merkel wasn’t keen on. "
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