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U.S. Navy Boosts Presence in Black Sea as Tensions in E. Ukraine Rise

black sea
The cruiser USS Monterrey conducts flight ops in the Black Sea, March 20 (USN)

Published Apr 13, 2021 11:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

As tensions rise along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia, the U.S. Navy has dispatched two destroyers to the Black Sea, augmenting U.S. ground forces staged in Germany. 

Russia has mobilized tank units, armored personnel carriers and troops to the Ukrainian border in its biggest military building in the region since its 2014 invasion of Crimea. In a reprise of Moscow's rhetoric in the run-up to its last incursion into Ukrainian territory, top Russian defense spokespeople have accused Ukrainian forces of planning to attack Russian-speaking inhabitants of Eastern Ukraine (Donbas). Western analysts suggest that no such threat exists, and that the accusation could serve as a pretext for a Russian offensive. 

Some sources close to the Russian government have suggested that invading Eastern Ukraine would be in Russia's national interest - not as a humanitarian gesture, but a means of expanding territory and pushing NATO further from Russia's borders. 

“I’ve been agitating and even demanding that we take Donbas. We need to patch up our [domestic] vulnerabilities as fast as we can, and then we can do whatever we want,” said Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the Russian state-owned networks RT and Sputnik, speaking to TV host Vladimir Soloviev on Sunday. Simonyan, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, also endorsed a suggestion that Russia's domestic political opposition should be eliminated by May 1. 

Analysts suggested that the buildup could be used for a variety of messaging purposes - applying pressure to Ukraine's government, distracting the Russian population from domestic concerns, or testing the will of the Biden administration. If it is intended support kinetic action and Russia does ultimately choose to invade Ukraine, the offensive may have to wait until mid-May. The ground is still wet in the Donbas region, and an invasion force would benefit from dry conditions to support heavy armor, noted military analyst Ian Bond, director of foreign policy for the Centre for European Reform.

In response to the buildup of troops and bellicose rhretoric, the U.S. has notified Turkey that it plans to send two destroyers through the Bosporus and into the Black Sea on April 14 and 15. They will stay until May 4 and 5, respectively. (Foreign warships may only stay in the Black Sea for 21 days at a time, per the limits of the Montreux Convention.)

The Kremlin fired back that it would be "better" for the U.S. Navy to stay away from the Black Sea. 

“We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday.