Senior naval sources told The Sunday Times that a Type 45 destroyer armed with anti-aircraft missiles and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate will separate from the Royal Navy's carrier task group in the Mediterranean and head through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea next month.
RAF F-35B Lightning stealth jets and Merlin submarine-hunting helicopters will stand ready on the task group's flagship, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to support the warships in the Black Sea, the newspaper said, specifying that putting the ships off the coast of Ukraine is meant to demonstrate solidarity with Kiev and the NATO allies in the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, spoke over the phone about Ukraine on Tuesday. Biden said he was concerned about Russia amassing troops near the border and asked Moscow to ease tensions with its neighbour.
Russia maintains that the troop movement is aimed at ensuring national security in response to NATO's own build-up near Russia's borders.
On 14 April, the Russian Defence Ministry's department of navigation and oceanography released a bulletin stating that from 24 April to 31 October there will be no passage through the territorial sea of Russia for foreign warships and other state vessels in three water areas of the Black Sea. The bulletin noted that the zones planned for closure will not prevent navigation through the Kerch Strait and are located within Russia's territorial waters.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest with Moscow over the closure and called it a violation of norms and principles of international law, since Ukraine has the right to regular shipping in these areas of the Black Sea. Notably, the Kerch Strait itself and the way to it, according to the Russian ministry's bulletin, are not part of the water areas that are expected to be closed.
The Russian Foreign Ministry stated on Thursday that NATO member countries with their provocative actions are aggravating the situation around Ukraine, which is not part of the alliance's area of responsibility, and are fuelling the mood for "a kind of military revenge".
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has since confirmed that the US has cancelled the passage of two destroyers through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. The Pentagon, however, refused to confirm or deny reports that Washington had cancelled the deployment of its warships to the Black Sea so as not to exacerbate tensions with Moscow. According to a Pentagon spokesman, there are currently no US naval assets in the Black Sea.