On Monday, as part of Congress’ impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump withheld military support for Ukraine, legislators released testimony from Christopher Anderson, who served as a top aide for Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. Anderson stated that President Trump had asked the U.S. Navy to cancel a routine “freedom-of-navigation” operation in the Black Sea, near Ukraine, earlier this year.
But on Wednesday, the U.S. Navy dismissed Anderson’s version of events. “U.S. 6th Fleet conducted our naval operations in the Black Sea region as scheduled in January and February 2019. The U.S. Navy will continue to operate in the Black Sea consistent with international law, to include the Montreaux Convention,” Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a spokesman for Naval Forces Europe-Africa asserted, as Stars and Stripes reported.
On Monday, Politico reported that Anderson recalled an alleged early-2019 conversation in which former national security adviser John Bolton said Trump had complained about a CNN story insinuating the Navy was countering Russian aggression in the Black Sea. Anderson told legislators, “Ambassador Bolton relayed that he was called at home by the president, who complained about this news report.”
Anderson described a sense of “Ukraine fatigue” emerging inside the administration that was evident when the Navy launched a routine “freedom-of-navigation” operation in the Black Sea. Anderson said officials notified the Turkish government, and when CNN reported on the move — portraying it as a response to Russia — the White House asked the Navy to cancel the maneuver.
Business Insider reported:
Anderson said the White House asked the Navy to cancel the freedom-of-navigation operation because the report portrayed the operation as a move to counter Russia, which has increased its naval presence there since annexing Crimea in 2014. In November 2018, its forces attacked Ukrainian assets transiting the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and held 24 Ukrainian service members captive.
Business Insider added, “Anderson said the signal to cancel the Navy operation, combined with reports at the time saying an effort was underway to review all assistance to Ukraine, left some fearing a shift in U.S. policy toward the former Soviet republic.”
Anderson stated, “We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report. And that may have just been that he was surprised. We don’t — I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion.”
Stars and Stripes added, “NAVEUR said Wednesday that no missions in the Black Sea were canceled or aborted in January. The USS Fort McHenry conducted maneuvers in the Black Sea in early January. This was followed by a patrol that month by the USS Donald Cook, which visited Georgia, NAVEUR said. The service carried out similar operations in February.”