The US will provide $10 million extra in military aid to help Ukraine beef up its naval capabilities, the State Department has announced, days after a Senate resolution called for such aid in response to the Kerch Strait incident.
Russia was ordered to “immediately return to Ukraine the seized vessels and detained Ukrainian crews” involved in last month’s naval provocation and to allow Ukrainian ships to freely navigate the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov in Friday’s statement from deputy State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino. The financial decision was made “in solidarity with” Lithuania and the UK, which also plan to step up their funding of the Ukrainian military, he added.
The State Department’s announcement follows hints from Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council head Alexander Turchinov that the country might send more ships through the Kerch Strait soon, despite the tension. If Ukraine doesn’t flex its muscles in the Azov, Turchinov told the BBC, Russia might “legitimize the occupation of Crimea.”
Not wishing to lose three more ships, Turchinov invited NATO along for the ride this time, explaining “It would be very logical if NATO ships which we invited [to visit] the Azov Sea ports make sure that Russia complies with international law.”
US senators introduced a resolution on Wednesday in support of the idea, calling for President Trump to retaliate against so-called “Russian aggression” by leading a “robust multinational freedom of navigation operation” in the Black Sea to counter “excessive Russian Federation claims of sovereignty.” The resolution requested additional military assistance to Ukraine, a wish the State Department has granted in record time (subject to Congressional approval).
The resolution also calls for the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the imposition of yet more sanctions on Russia, even requesting European countries deny Russian Navy ships access to their ports for refueling and resupply purposes.
On November 25, three Ukrainian Navy vessels, including two gunboats, attempted to enter the Kerch Strait without receiving clearance from Russia. After disregarding multiple warnings, the vessels were fired upon and seized by the coast guard, along with 24 crew. Russian officials have called the Ukrainian incursion a deliberate, premeditated provocation, stating the Ukrainian vessels purposefully ignored “accepted maritime rules” and that all countries seeking peaceful passage are free to use the waterway.
Ukraine’s military is already heavily subsidized by the US. Since the US-backed coup that put President Poroshenko’s regime in power in 2014, the country has supplied Ukraine with over $1 billion in military aid, supplemented by $47 million in anti-tank missiles earlier this year. Kurt Volker, the Trump administration’s envoy to Ukraine, promised an additional $250 million “foreign military-financing package” earlier this week.