Russia Announces Mass Naval Drills Involving 140 Vessels
On Thursday, Russia's military announced that it will be staging large-scale naval drills in all regions where it operates, complementing an intensified pace of maneuvers on shore. Russia has built up a force of 100,000 troops and 1,500 tanks near the borders of Ukraine, raising widespread expectations that Moscow is about to mount a new invasion - a large-scale follow-on to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Kremlin denies that it has plans to invade Ukraine.
In a statement, Russia's military said that the naval exercises are oriented towards interoperability of Russia's Navy and Aerospace Forces, as well as countering "military threats to the Russian Federation from sea and ocean directions." The operations will cover all sea areas next to Russian territory, in addition to "operationally important areas" of the high seas. This will include maneuvers in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the northeast Atlantic and the Pacific. The Black Sea and Baltic were not named.
The mobilization is a mass-scale event: according to the announcement, it will involve more than 140 warships and support vessels; more than 60 aircraft; 1,000 units of military equipment; and about 10,000 servicemen.
In recent weeks, unusual naval activity has caught the attention of Russia's neighbors in the Baltic. Last week, a rare concentration of six Russian landing craft near Kaliningrad prompted Sweden's armed forces to reinforce the garrison at the strategic island of Gotland, which is considered vulnerable to Russian attack in the event of war.
All six landing craft have since departed the Baltic and have transited through the English Channel. They are widely believed to be headed for the Black Sea, where they could be used for an expected amphibious assault on Ukraine's Sea of Azov or Black Sea coastline. These vessels include the enlarged tank landing ship Pyotr Morgunov and five smaller Ropucha-class landing ships, Olenegorskiy Gornyak, Georgiy Pobedonosets, Korolev, Minsk, and Kaliningrad. All are capable of delivering battle tanks onto an unprepared beach.