US sending two warships to Black Sea as Russia builds up forces in Ukraine

The United States will send two warships to the Black Sea next week amid a Russian build up of military forces along its border with Ukraine, the Turkish government said Friday.

NATO ally Turkey said the two U.S. warships would reach the Black Sea from Wednesday to Thursday after Washington notified Ankara of the move a little over two weeks ago.

“A notice was sent to us 15 days ago via diplomatic channels that two U.S. warships would pass to the Black Sea, in line with the Montreux Convention,” a 1936 treaty which gave Ankara control of the seas’ straits, according to Turkey’s foreign ministry, as reported by Reuters. “The ships will remain in the Black Sea until May 4.”

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Pentagon press secretary John Kirby would not confirm the specific movement Friday, telling reporters that the Defense Department routinely sends ships to the region.

“That’s not anything new,” Kirby said.

The Navy often sails its ships through the Black Sea — a body of water along nearly all of Ukraine’s southern border — but the new movement signals to Moscow that Washington is aware of recent Russian aggression.

Kirby several times on Friday referred to Russia’s recent actions in eastern Ukraine as a “buildup” of forces rather than training, as Moscow has insisted it is conducting.

Last month, fighting resumed between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, ending a cease-fire the two groups made last summer. The action has NATO countries concerned, with U.S. European Command raising its alert status to its highest level. 

Russia, in turn, has accused NATO countries that don’t share a coastline with the Black Sea of increasing naval activity.

The White House this week said Russia has placed more troops on Ukraine’s eastern border than at any time since 2014, when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.