Russia Conducts Air Defense, Anti-Ship Drills as U.S. Warships Enter Black Sea

Russia has conducted a series of air defense and anti-ship military drills in the Black Sea amid protests toward the passage of two U.S. warships through a body of water at the center of tensions between the two nations.

The Russian Armed Forces' Southern Military District announced Tuesday that crews operating Bal and Bastion coastal anti-ship systems conducted simulated launches as part of "an exercise to destroy a mock enemy surface ship in the Black Sea."

The maneuvers were conducted from camouflaged positions on Crimea, a region annexed by Russia after an internationally disputed referendum held amid a political uprising in Ukraine in 2014. The peninsula has also long hosted the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which also held a training session on Tuesday.

The fleet's air defenses were activated and "put on alert" to protect Russian warships from a "massive" missile strike and air raid of a simulated enemy, including mock foe drones.

The moves came just a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked on the U.S. military presence in the Black Sea during a meeting with defense industry leaders.

Discussing a "need to further improve aerospace defense," the Russian leader warned of "leading countries developing innovative strike weapons with advanced speed parameters" as well as "the increasing numbers of NATO flights close to Russia, and NATO ships with guided missiles appearing in the Baltic and Black Seas."

"Just recently, as you know, a U.S. ship entered the Black Sea – it could be seen through binoculars or through the sight of our defense systems," Putin said. "U.S. plans to deploy medium-range missiles in Europe are also well known, and that also poses a great danger and threat to us."

Russia, Bastion, coastal, defense, Crimea
A Bastion coastal defense system of Russia's Black Sea Fleet fires an anti-ship missile during an exercise at the Opuk training ground in Crimea in this footage published September 23. Russian Ministry of Defense

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter entered the Black Sea on Saturday on what the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet described as "a routine patrol" alongside U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter jets and other aircraft such as U.S. Navy P-8A anti-submarine spy planes.

"The crew of USS Porter looks forward to entering the Black Sea to maintain safety and stability throughout the region," USS Porter Commander Christopher Petro said in a press release at the time. "Our ability to work alongside our NATO allies and partners enhances our collective readiness and overall maritime security."

The USS Porter had earlier joined the USS Arleigh Burke for joint exercises with frigates operated by NATO allies Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, according to a separate Sixth Fleet report published Monday.

Also on Monday, the Sixth Fleet flagship Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney had arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, for a port visit. The vessel was then set to join USS Porter "to further enhance collaboration between U.S. and NATO forces at sea," according to a third Sixth Fleet readout.

"NATO allies and partners stand together to ensure a safe, stable and secure Black Sea region, building partner capacity to improve effectiveness and interoperability," the report said.

The Black Sea region has long been a flashpoint for tensions between Russia on one side and the U.S. and its NATO allies on the other. The situation worsened over the summer as the U.S. and Ukraine rallied some 30 nations to conduct the annual Exercise Sea Breeze in the Black Sea, drawing Russian military exercises and anger.

Frictions have been especially severe in the region since the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a conflict with eastern Ukraine separatists that Kyiv has accused Moscow of backing. Russia has rejected direct ties and has called on Ukraine to engage directly in talks geared toward securing special status for the self-declared People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass region.

"Accusing us of destroying Ukraine's territorial integrity is unseemly and dishonest," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Rossiya-24 outlet on Monday. "It is being destroyed by those who are trying to make it a super-unitary state while reducing the languages ​​of ethnic minorities, primarily Russian, to the status of token tools of communication, and making education in Russian and other languages nonexistent​. This is a neo-Nazi approach to society building."

That same day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said it was Moscow that was oppressing minority rights, accusing Russian authorities of restricting the activities of ethnic Ukrainian organizations across the country.

"We call on the international community to impartially assess the ongoing harsh deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia, to increase political and diplomatic pressure on the Russian authorities in order to stop ultimately the attack on the rights of the Ukrainian national minority in Russia," the ministry said.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the COP26 U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity," according a State Department readout. "He welcomed Ukraine's steps to address corruption and underscored that, together with our allies and partners, the United States would continue to reinforce Ukrainian energy security, including by reducing the risks posed by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline."

The Nord Stream 2 serves as a direct line for Europe-bound gas between Russia and Germany, bypassing Ukraine and raising concerns in Kyiv that Moscow could cut off the flow to the former Soviet republic as leverage over geopolitical issues.

In a tweet, Zelensky said that he and Blinken also discussed "the tense security situation in Donbas" as well as U.S.-Ukraine "military-defense cooperation" and "challenges in the energy sector." He said the U.S. "firmly supports" Ukraine's "territorial integrity, praises progress in reforms and a strong commitment to their implementation."

USS, Mount, Whitney, Turkey, port, visit
The Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney pulls into Istanbul for a scheduled port visit on November 1. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila V. Peters/Sixth Fleet/U.S. Navy