Turkey has granted authorization for the passage of a US warship through the Turkish Straits to the Black Sea, an official speaking on condition of anonymity said on Wednesday.
The ship is expected to travel through the straits within the next few days, the official added. Turkish media reported on the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in a Greek port, but the official said that a different US ship was set to pass through the Straits, but that he could not reveal its name.
The passage of the US ship comes amid tensions between Russia and the West over Russian military incursions in the Crimea peninsula in southern Ukraine and hints of a larger invasion of Ukrainian territory following the toppling of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in the wake of anti-government and pro-EU protests.
It is not clear why the US ship is crossing the Straits, but the move does not appear to be linked to the Ukraine crisis, given that military ships of countries without a Black Sea coast are required to secure permission from the Turkish authorities to cross the Straits at least 15 days prior to their intended passage.
In a statement on Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said despite some media outlets speculating about possible ship movements in the region, there has been no change to US military maneuvers in Europe or the Mediterranean Sea.
“Our Navy units continue to conduct routine, previously planned operations and exercises with allies and partners in the region,” Kirby said.
Commenting about the USS George H.W. Bush, the anonymous official said that it could not pass the Straits because according to the 1936 Montreux Convention, passage through the Straits is forbidden to aircraft carriers.
The Montreux Convention specifies that warships from states without a Black Sea coast can stay in the Black Sea for at most 21 days. For a ship to be eligible to pass the Straits, it cannot weigh more than 45,000 tons.
Responding to a question on the possible passage of a US ship, Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed that Turkey has always upheld the Montreux Convention. “This agreement has never been violated. This is our principle,” he told reporters on Monday as he received Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey, Sergey Korsunsky.
Russian troops have effectively occupied Ukraine's Crimea region, sparking what many have called the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. In an effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, Western foreign ministers have been preparing to meet with their Russian counterpart in Paris on Wednesday, while NATO and Russia have planned parallel talks in Brussels.
Turkey, a NATO member, has called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis and has insisted that the territorial integrity of Ukraine should be protected.