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NATO set to guarantee free passage of ships via Kerch Strait — US envoy

A package of measures will be approved during a two-day conference to begin in Washington on Wednesday

WASHINGTON, April 3. /TASS/. NATO is set to guarantee the safe passage of ships via the Kerch Strait, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and to step up aerial surveillance in the area, US envoy to NATO told foreign journalists on Tuesday.

US Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that a package of measures will be approved during a two-day conference to begin in Washington on Wednesday.

"I think that we have been working on a package to present to the foreign ministers, and it is a package that beefs up the surveillance, both air surveillance as well as more of the NATO country ships going into the Black Sea to assure that there is safe passage from Ukrainian vessels through the Kerch Straits, the Sea of Azov," she said.

The ambassador added that those measures were very important for making sure that "the countries in and around the Black Sea are safe from Russian meddling."

"It is very important that Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, as well as Georgia, have the security in that Black Sea area both for ships but also for their land-based safety," she continued.

The US ambassador added that the package of measures was drafted in the wake of the Kerch Strait incident.

Kerch Strait incident

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) reported on November 25 that three Ukrainian warships (the Berdyansk, the Nikopol and the Yany Kapu) had breached the Russian state border on Sunday morning and attempted to carry out illegal maneuvers in Russia’s territorial waters later. The Ukrainian vessels ignored the legitimate demands of the Coast Guard of the FSB Border Service and the Black Sea Fleet to stop immediately and end their dangerous action. The Ukrainian warships carried on, blatantly disregarding these orders, which triggered a chase involving some gunfire to stop them. Consequently, the ships were detained in Russian territorial waters.

The members of Ukrainian ship crews, 24 in total, have been arrested at placed in a pretrial facility in Moscow. They were charged with illegally crossing the Russian border.