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Russian defense minister calls ‘constant’ US presence in Black Sea a provocation

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) and Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), July 13, 2018. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the constant presence of the U.S. Navy in the Black Sea a provocation after another ship entered the strategic waters.

“This is an almost constant attempt to test us, to check how ready we are, how much we have built the entire [defense] system off the Black Sea coast,” Shoigu told state TV on November 7.

Shoigu said other countries are doing it as well but did not name any nation in particular. Russia claimed in June that it fired warning shots at a British naval vessel that passed through Crimean waters.

The Black Sea has become a hotspot in relations between the Kremlin and the West after Russia annexed Crimea, a move that gives it access to a long Black Sea coast.

Most countries do not recognize Russia’s annexation and continue to seek permission from Ukraine to traverse the waters near Crimea.

Members of the U.S.-led military alliance, NATO, border the Black Sea, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. U.S.-friendly nations including Ukraine and Georgia also border the sea.

The United States holds naval training exercises with allies and partners in the Black Sea and also regularly patrols the waters.

Shoigu said Russia is keeping an eye on the USS Mount Whitney of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, which entered the Black Sea on November 4.

The U.S. Navy said the USS Mount Whitney’s operations in the Black Sea demonstrate U.S. and NATO’s commitment to the region.