Two Russian warships transited the Bosphorus strait en route to the Black Sea on Saturday and 15 smaller vessels completed a transfer to the sea as Moscow beefs up its naval presence at a time of tense relations with the West and Ukraine.
The reinforcement coincides with a huge build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, something Moscow calls a temporary defensive exercise, and follows an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Russia’s relations with the US, which cancelled the deployment of two of its own warships to the Black Sea last week after fierce Russian protests, are at a post-Cold War low.
Moscow expelled 10 US diplomats on Friday in retaliation for the expulsion of the same number of Russian diplomats from the US over alleged malign activity.
Russia has also temporarily restricted the movement of foreign warships “and other state ships” near Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, a move condemned by both Kiev and Washington.
Crimea is recognised as Ukrainian by the UN and most other countries.
Two Russian Ropucha-class landing ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet, capable of carrying tanks and of delivering armour and troops during coastal assaults, transited the Bosphorus strait yesterday, a Reuters reporter in Istanbul saw.
The RIA news agency yesterday also reported that 15 smaller vessels from Russia’s Caspian Flotilla have completed their transfer to the Black Sea as part of an exercise.
In a further sign of heightened tension in the region, a ship carrying logistics trucks and equipment for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Romania transited the Bosphorus strait on Friday evening, the same Reuters reporter saw.
In St Petersburg, Russia’s FSB security service briefly detained a Ukrainian diplomat, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said yesterday.
The Interfax news agency earlier cited the FSB as saying Oleksandr Sosoniuk was taken into custody when he tried to obtain classified information from Russian law enforcement databases during a meeting with a Russian citizen. – Reuters