Angela Merkel resisted US pressure to deploy German Navy warships to the Kerch Strait for naval exercises during her February 16 meeting with the US Vice President on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Bloomberg has reported, citing three individuals said to be familiar with the talks.
Paraphrasing the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Bloomberg indicated that Pence wanted Merkel to send Deutsche Marine ships into Russian waters to "show Putin that Western powers" wouldn't "surrender their access to those waters."
Merkel reportedly rejected the proposal, the sources said, citing 'reservations' from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that the one-time maneuver wouldn't keep the strait open permanently.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine over the Kerch Strait escalated last November, after a group of Ukrainian Navy vessels illegally crossed the Russian maritime border and sailed toward the strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Russia seized the vessels and detained their crews after they failed to respond to demands to stop.
President Putin called the incident a "provocation," suggesting it was a bid by Poroshenko to bolster his sagging approval ratings ahead of elections, and pointing out that the crewmembers onboard the Ukrainian vessels included officers from the country's Security Service. Shortly after the incident, Kiev declared martial law across its eastern and southeastern regions, with the status lifted in late December.