Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Fred Gray IV / US Navy / DVIDS
President Donald Trump called his then-national security adviser John Bolton to complain about a routine US Navy transit in the Black Sea after seeing a CNN report that framed the operation as a counter to Russia. An aide to a top Ukraine envoy testified about this to House investigators looking into the Ukraine scandal.
The White House ordered the Navy to cancel the freedom-of-navigation patrol, though one eventually took place in February.
The freedom-of-navigation operation came in the wake of an incident in which Russia attacked Ukrainian vessels and detained members of the Ukrainian military in the Kerch Strait, a body of water connecting the Black Sea to the Azov Sea.
Christopher Anderson, an aide to former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, testified that the White House canceled a Navy freedom-of-navigation operation in the Black Sea after President Donald Trump complained to then-national security adviser John Bolton about a CNN report that framed the operation as a counter to Russia, Politico reported.
According to Anderson's testimony, the news report in question came from CNN and characterized the operation as antagonistic toward Russia. Anderson testified that Trump called Bolton at home to complain about the article, and the operation was later canceled at the behest of the White House, Anderson said.
"In January, there was an effort to get a routine freedom-of-navigation operation into the Black Sea," Anderson testified. "There was a freedom-of-navigation operation for the Navy. So we — we, the US government — notified the Turkish government that there was this intent."
While Anderson in his testimony placed the report in January, details from his testimony match a story from early December, which had the headline "US makes preparations to sail warship into the Black Sea amid Russia-Ukraine tensions."
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.
"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," Anderson said.
"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."
The White House did not respond to Insider's requests for comment. US 6th Fleet did not address Black Sea transits in December 2018, but said all operations in January and February of 2019 went according to schedule.
"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," according to spokesman Cmdr. Kyle Raines.