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USS Whidbey Island, dock landing ship of the United States Navy, sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Black Sea in Istanbul, Turkey, July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer - RTSJ1TB

U.S. SENDS WARSHIPS INTO BLACK SEA FOR JOINT UKRAINE DRILL

U.S. missile destroyer warship USS Ross is entering the Black Sea, joining a 2,300-strong drill off Ukraine’s coast, despite persistent Russian warnings to keep U.S. vessels away.

Following NATO’s decision to strengthen its presence in its Baltic Sea allies, Russia has grown more vocally critical of U.S. military presence in the Black Sea. The U.S. is taking part in the annual Sea Breeze exercise, already underway off the coast of Ukraine’s port city Odessa. The drill has been co-hosted by Ukraine and the U.S. annually since 1997, with 13 countries taking part this year.

The U.S. Navy announced on Friday that USS Ross had crossed through the Bosphorus strait, entering the Black Sea and was heading north toward the site of the exercise. Landing ship USS Whidbey Island also sailed into the Black Sea for the exercise, carrying 500 troops aboard, according to Ukrainian TV channel 112.

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Sea Breeze 2016 will see Ukraine, the U.S. and 11 other countries practice air defense, anti-submarine warfare, damage control, search and rescue, and other missions in support of maritime security and regional stability in the Black Sea.

It also comes as Russia is assembling its new Black Sea Fleet off the coast of Crimea, preparing to unveil its revamped lineup in an official naval parade on the last day of July. Russia’s newest warship Admiral Grigorovich sailed into the sea last week, practicing live artillery fire.

USS Ross’s venture into the Black Sea last summer resulted in it being streaked by six Russian Su-24 multi-role fighter jets, with Russia reporting the vessel was heading into Russian territorial waters but escorted away. The U.S. Navy posted a video of the incident in dispute at those claims.

Similar close encounters in Europe’s seas are becoming a regular occurrence; the USS Donald Cook was crowded by two Su-24 aircraft in April in the Baltic Sea.

Russia’s Southern Military District did not respond to questions on whether it would be observing the exercise; however, the U.S. Navy in Europe told Newsweek that so far “there have been no signals, sightings, or obstruction from Russian armed forces toward the Sea Breeze participants.”

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Via: newsweek.com

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