The potential for major escalation in the Black Sea between the United States and Russia just grew significantly hotter as the US military has formally notified Turkey that it plans to sail a warship into the Black Sea for the first time in a month.
US defense officials have told CNN that the request is specifically in response to Russia's actions against Ukraine during the Nov. 25 Kerch Strait incident.
According to a CNN exclusive Wednesday afternoon:
The US has begun making the necessary preparations to sail a warship into the Black Sea, a move that comes amid heightened tensions in the region following Russia's seizure of Ukrainian ships and detention of Ukrainian sailors.
The US military has requested that the State Department notify Turkey of its possible plans to sail a warship into the Black Sea, three US officials tell CNN, a move they said is a response to Russia's actions against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
The military has made the request as required under the Montreux Convention — the 1936 agreement which gave Turkey control over the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles, including authority to regulate the transit of naval warships.
A State Department spokesman told CNN, "the United States carries out its activities consistent with the terms of the Montreux Convention. We will not, however, comment on the nature of our diplomatic correspondence with the Government of Turkey." There was no early indication whether Turkey granted the passage, which could be interesting given recent closer relations between Ankara and Moscow.
But two among CNN source's cautioned that giving Turkey notification would merely provide the Navy "the option" of moving a warship into the area, suggesting that no battleships have necessarily yet to be deployed.
A Pentagon naval official sought to downplay the significance of the potential maneuver, saying in a statement: "Our US 6th Fleet is always prepared to respond where called."
"We routinely conduct operations to advance security and stability throughout the US 6th Fleet area of operations to include the international waters and airspace of the Black Sea," Cdr. Kyle Raines, a spokesman for the Fleet, told CNN. "We reserve the right to operate freely in accordance with international laws and norms," he added.
However, Pentagon officials also noted that "Moscow lays claim to areas that far exceed the 12 miles from the Russian coastline that is guaranteed by international law," according to CNN.
Also on Wednesday Russia's Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced it conducted a military drill in eastern Crimea involving Russian troops and Pantsir anti-aircraft missile systems.
And elsewhere tensions grew in the Sea of Japan, as on Wednesday a US Navy warship passed through waters claimed by Russia. According to FOX:
A U.S. Navy warship sailed in waters claimed by Russia in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday as tensions increase over the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from a decades-old arms control treaty.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Fleet says the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell sailed “in the vicinity of” Peter the Great Bay, a body of water off the Russian port city of Vladivostok, “to challenge Russia's excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other nations.”
Of course, Russia will view any provocative action in the Black Sea as an even greater threat in its backyard at a moment tensions are soaring.
Russia has over the past week signaled a build-up of forces in Crimea, including the transfer of more S-400 anti-air defense systems. Should American warships enter the area, along with a British surveillance ship already deployed, it could be a recipe for WWIII.