Russia Says U.S., Allies 'Doomed to Failure' if They Try to Test Black Sea Borders

Russia has warned that the United States and Western allies would not succeed if they sought to test the country's willingness to defend the borders it claims amid heightened tensions accompanying drills conducted by NATO and partnered forces in the Black Sea.

Russian officials have rallied against Exercise Sea Breeze, an annual training co-hosted by the U.S. and Ukraine alongside a largest-ever array this year of some 30 other countries in the Black Sea. While the drills happen every year, recent weeks have witnessed an uptick in Russian air and sea interceptions of Western powers, including an incident late last month in which Russian maritime border guards fired warning shots to ward off a U.K. destroyer as the war games began.

In remarks sent to Newsweek, the Russian embassy in Washington issued a message regarding the country's position.

"Maneuvers performed in the immediate proximity to the Russian shores with the use of U.S. and its allies' destroyers, as well as transport and landing ships—are a provocation," the Russian embassy in Washington told Newsweek. "Such exercises with imitation of landing operations and Special Forces training activities undermine security in the Black Sea region."

The embassy compared the scenario to a hypothetical Russian-led drill just south of the U.S. coast.

"Imagine a situation where Russia conducts drills in the Gulf of Mexico," the embassy said. "This would have sparked a storm of indignation in the U.S."

Further antagonizing the Black Sea flashpoint are geopolitical tensions surrounding the status of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine as the latter faced political unrest in 2014.

"We call on our partners to comprehend one simple thing—the population of Crimea in 2014 already made its choice. It must be respected," the Russian embassy said. "The attempts of the West to test Russia's determination to defend its territorial integrity with such provocative exercises are doomed to failure."

Russia, Border, Guard, fires, warning, shots, UK
A Russian Border Guard vessel fires warning shots in the wake of the United Kingdom Royal Navy's HMS Defender during a June 23 encounter in the Black Sea. The incident took place as the U.K. joined the U.S. and other NATO members and partners for the annual, multilateral Exercise Sea Breeze. Russian Federal Security Service

But the referendum through which this process took place has been rejected by Kyiv and its Western supporters. And where Moscow sees a "provocation" in Exercise Sea Breeze, the U.S. and allied powers see an attempt to mischaracterize the maneuvers.

"To call this exercise a provocation is to ignore the history of the exercise and the main consistent message," U.S. Navy Lieutenant Bobby Dixon, public affairs officer for Exercise Sea Breeze, told Newsweek. "The exercise is a multinational coalition of nations dedicated to partnership and stability in the Black Sea region."

And he dismissed any direct link to Russia or current events.

"Additionally," Dixon said, "we are carrying out an exercise not in response to any one country or event as this exercise has been taking place since 1997."

U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet Deputy Public Affairs Officer Lieutenant Commander Matthew Comer recently offered Newsweek a similar account of Exercise Sea Breeze, in which he said the nations involved "demonstrate an international commitment to stability of the Black Sea."

"U.S. Sixth Fleet along with allies and partners will continue to conduct routine operations in international waters and airspace, ensuring freedom of navigation and uninhibited maritime trade across the global commons," Comer said.

A NATO official recently speaking with Newsweek also said the alliance regularly operated in the Black Sea, but tied an increased focus on the region to the issue of Crimea.

"Since Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea," the official said. "NATO ships routinely operate in the Black Sea, consistent with international law, usually patrolling the waters for around two-thirds of the year. We have also increased our cooperation with partners in the region, including Ukraine, with greater information sharing, port visits and exercises."

With Crimea firmly under Russian control, Ukraine remains locked in a seven-year conflict against separatists in the eastern Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have declared autonomous people's republics without international recognition. Kyiv has vowed to reclaim the breakaway areas from what it considers to be a Moscow-backed insurgency, while Russia has emphasized the need for Ukraine to withdraw heavy weapons and grant special status to the provinces as part of the Minsk agreements regarding the ongoing conflict.

In the meantime, NATO has expanded its operations not only at sea, but in the air as well, across the Black Sea, the shores of which touch NATO members Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

"Several Allies also conduct NATO air policing in the Black Sea region, and three NATO members are littoral states with their own forces in the region," the official added. "NATO Allies and partners are committed to ensuring that the Black Sea region remains stable and secure."

USS, Ross, fires, machine, gun, Black, Sea
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires its Mark 38 25mm machine gun during a live fire exercise as part of Exercise Sea Breeze in the Black Sea, July 7. Days earlier, two Russian Su-24Ms buzzed the U.S. warship, marking Moscow's protests to the ongoing multinational drills just off Russian shores. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Claire DuBois/U.S. Navy Public Affairs Support Element East Detachment Europe

Russia too continues to hold exercises in the region, including in Crimea, which hosts the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet. Here, Pantsir S1 surface-to-air missile and artillery systems were deployed to practice taking out enemy drones hypothetically targeting advanced S-400 defense batteries, which conducted simulated launches in the Black Sea–adjacent Krasnodar region of the Southern Military District earlier this week.

As both sides attempt to demonstrate their resolve, Moscow has said it has presented an off-ramp.

"The Russian Federation has repeatedly put forward proposals to limit training activities and withdraw areas of maneuvers from the Russia-NATO line of contact," the Russian embassy said.

This proposal, according to the embassy, "is about the need to clarify the procedure for conducting radio exchange, determining safe distances between ships and aircraft of the parties, using transponders when flying aircraft over the open sea."

"Our initiatives are still on the table," the embassy added, "we are ready for a professional dialogue with the participation of the military of our countries."