Put simply, if the U.S. goes into the Sea of Azov, we had better be prepared for a full-scale war with Russia. Do we want that?
The far better way to deal with Russia in this sphere is to sanction Putin and make clear that there will be no sanctions relief until Crimea is returned to Kiev’s rule. Yet there’s another challenge here beyond Russian political conceptions: namely, the fact that any American effort to effectively contest control over the Sea of Azov would be fraught with huge military risk.
For a start, there’s the fact that the Russian southern military command literally sits right on the Sea of Azov’s northeastern tip. That means a lot of Russian missile and artillery assets could rain fire down on any outnumbered U.S. warships that manage to get into the sea. Then there’s the fact that Russia’s Black Sea fleet is headquartered at Sevastopol, Crimea. Alongside guided missile frigates, that fleet also possesses at least five attack submarines (admittedly, it’s far from clear how many are actually operational). Finally, you can bet the Russians would saturate the Sea of Azov with fighter-bomber aircraft with which to strike U.S. warships. It gets worse. Because even if we were willing to accept the thousands of casualties and wrecked U.S. warships this operation would entail, how would we actually intend to control the Crimean strait?