US provides Ukraine with additional $10 million in military aid

The United States says it will provide an additional $10 million in military aid to Ukraine to boost its naval capability, after Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships off the coast of Crimea last month.

The State Department announced the decision on Friday, urging Moscow to “immediately return to Ukraine the seized vessels and detained Ukrainian crews.”

Last month, Russian naval forces seized two Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat, saying they had illegally entered its territorial waters.

The flotilla, it said, had not notified Russia of its plans in advance and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously. 

The State Department called on Russia “to keep the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov open to ships transiting to and from Ukrainian ports, and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The Sea of Azov is a strategic ocean route linked to the Black Sea by the narrow Strait of Kerch where Russia has built a bridge to link the Crimean Peninsula with the mainland.

Tensions escalated earlier this year after Ukraine detained two Russian ships for port calls on Crimea, which rejoined Russia in a 2014 referendum.

The move prompted Russia to increase patrols off its Azov coast to guarantee free navigation by Russian ships. 

Following the November incident, the European Union said tensions in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait had “increased dangerously,” and that Russia must restore freedom of passage.