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US proposal on NATO ships in Black Sea meets Russian objection

A general view of USS Mount Whitney of the US Navy during the NATO-led military exercise Trident Juncture on November 2, 2018 at the Norwegian sea outside Trondheim, Norway (photo by AFP)

Russia has objected to a US proposal on the deployment of more NATO ships to the Black Sea in support of Ukraine. Moscow views it "negatively," the Kremlin spokesman says.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, "We do not understand what they mean by this. The situation with the Kerch Straight and navigation there is well known."

Washington said on Tuesday that it plans to offer a package to NATO defense ministers this week to ensure "safe passage for Ukrainian vessels through the Kerch Strait [to] the Sea of Azov" and to deter Russia.

The package of measures includes beefing up surveillance and sending more NATO ships to the Black Sea, according to US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The package was expected to be discussed during the regular April meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned that the plan would only lead to "increased military risks" in the region, according to Interfax news agency.

"If additional military and technical measures are needed from our side, we will adopt them."

In November, two Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat tried to pass through the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, apparently without prior warning, but were ordered to stop by Russian border guards. A confrontation took place after the Ukrainian navy ships ignored the calls while maneuvering dangerously, ending with the three ships being seized by the Russian side and the injury of six Ukrainian seamen.

Moscow described the move as "maritime terrorism" and increased patrols off its Azov coast to guarantee free navigation by Russian ships.

It was the first open military clash between Ukraine and Russia since 2014, when Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum.

In Algeria, Moscow calls for no foreign 'interference'

Elsewhere in his remarks, Peskov touched upon the situation in Algeria, urging no foreign "interference" in the country.

Algeria's ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned.

"We expect that the internal processes that are happening in this country and are exclusively the internal affair of Algeria will take place without the interference of any third countries," the Russian official said.

He stressed Russia’s “friendly relations” with Algeria, adding that the two countries share "many joint projects in the economic sphere."

Bouteflika announced his resignation on Tuesday in the face months of protests against his rule following his decision to seek a fifth term.

The 82-year-old had been in power for the past 20 years, but was reportedly in poor health and had rarely appeared in public after suffering a stroke in 2013.

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