Turkey has given a US Navy Warship the green light to pass through the Bosphorus within the next two days as tensions in Ukraine’s Crimea region continue to divide world powers.
Turkish sources, speaking with the Hurriyet Daily News on Wednesday, declined to elaborate on the name of the US warship. The same officials told the daily on condition of anonymity that the ship in question was not the USS George H.W. Bush nuclear aircraft carrier as suggested in some news reports, as it did not meet the standards specified by the 1936 Montreux Convention in terms of weight.
The US vessel to pass through the straits will meet the convention’s standards, the sources said.
On Wednesday, the Russian Black Sea Fleet Staff confirmed to the Itar-Tass news agency that a US destroyer was expected to enter the Black Sea later this week.
On Sunday, Tass reported that the guided-missile frigate USS Taylor, one of two Navy ships assigned to the Black Sea during the Sochi Winter Olympics was still in the Turkish Black Sea port of Samsun. The frigate was deployed on February 5 along with the amphibious command ship, USS Mount Whitney. According to the Montreux Convention, warships of countries which do not border the Black Sea cannot remain in the waters for longer than 21 days. While the USS Mount Whitney left on February 25, the USS Taylor remained at the Turkish port, ostensibly for repairs after running aground on February 12.
Meanwhile, it was reported on Tuesday that two Russian warships entered the Black Sea through the Bosphorus. The 150 'Saratov' landing ship and the 156 'Yamal' assault ship crossed the strait around 05:30 GMT, en route to the Black Sea, the Anadolu Agency (AA) reported.
No coastguard boats were seen escorting the ships. The Ukrainian Hetman Sahaydachny followed shortly thereafter, crossing the Dardanelles Strait off Turkey's west coast. Two coastguard vessels were reported by AA to be escorting the ship.
The vessel, which had participated in NATO-led Ocean Shield and Atalanta counter-piracy operations, reportedly docked near Odessa port on Wednesday, says the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.
The traffic through the Turkish straits comes as tensions between the West and Russia over recent events in Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, continue to simmer.
Russia currently leases a military wharf and shore installations in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. The Ukrainian government agreed to extend Russia’s lease on the territory in 2010, allowing the Russian Black Sea Fleet to effectively stay in Crimea until 2047.
Five Russian naval units are currently stationed in the port city of Sevastopol, including the 30th Surface Ship Division, the 41st Missile Boat Brigade, the 247th Separate Submarine Division, the 68th Harbor Defense Ship, and the 422nd Separate Hydrographic Ship Division.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet are “in their deployment sites" and “additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites.”
“We will do everything to prevent bloodshed," he said, speaking ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with his US counterpart, John Kerry, since the crisis erupted.
Over a week after the government of Viktor Yanukovich was toppled by violent street protests, fears of deepening political and social strife have been particularly acute in Ukraine’s pro-Russian east and south.
One day after voting to oust Yanukovich, a newly reconfigured parliament did away with a 2012 law on minority languages, which permitted the use of two official languages in regions where the size of an ethnic minority exceeds 10 percent.
Apart from the Russian-majority regions affected by this law, Hungarian, Moldovan and Romanian also lost their status as official languages in several towns in Western Ukraine.
Authorities in the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea – where over half the population is ethnically Russian – requested Moscow’s assistance following the legal downgrade of the Russian language.
Western states have accused Russia of militarily intervening in Crimea and called on Russian troops to return to their Black Sea bases. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently dispatched military observers to Kiev. The observers from the pan-European security body are en route to Crimea, where they will monitor the situation on the ground.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated President Putin’s previous words that Russian troops had not actually been deployed from their bases in Crimea. Lavrov said that forces with unmarked uniforms which had taken de-facto control over Crimea are self-defense units that are not under Russia’s auspices.
"If they are the self-defense forces created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we have no authority over them," Lavrov told a news conference in Madrid after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
"They do not receive orders [from us]," he said.
On Saturday, the Russian Federation Council – the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia – approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to send the country’s military forces to Ukraine to ensure peace and order in the region “until the socio-political situation in the country is stabilized.”
According to the bilateral agreement concerning Russia's Black Sea Fleet military bases in Crimea, Moscow is allowed to have up to 25,000 troops in Ukraine.