Russian warships and fighter jets join military exercises in Black Sea

Russian Ministry of Defence

More than 20 Russian warships held manoeuvres in the Black Sea together with the air force on Tuesday, amid growing tension over the build-up of troops along the border with Ukraine.

Sukhoi Su-25SM3 fighter jets were involved in the exercise, according to a statement by the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet.

It said more than 50 warplanes were deployed to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The manoeuvres involved rehearsing defences against an enemy aerial attack using electronic systems, alongside conventional air defence.

The exercise comes amid growing international concern about the deployment of Russian and Ukrainian troops near the conflict zone, raising fears of a resurgence in fighting in Ukraine.

As many as 20,000 more Russian troops than usual are deployed near Ukraine’s border, according to the head of Ukraine’s military operation, Sergei Nayev.

US estimates put the number of soldiers at between 15,000 and 25,000, while estimates by the EU put the number at more than 100,000.

Moscow has not provided a figure, but has said the increase in troop numbers is due to a military exercise.

Russia closed parts of its sea and air space for the manoeuvres in the Black Sea. Temporary restrictions on air traffic are a common practice worldwide, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Interfax agency.

Peskov also noted that tensions remain along the border with Ukraine and said the situation needed special attention.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated that his country would never seek war or military escalation.

The Russian troop build-up along the Ukrainian border and in Crimea is larger than in 2014, Kuleba said, predicting there would be a total of 120,000 soldiers there in around a week. “That means we can no longer rule anything out,” he said, adding that Moscow alone was behind the escalation.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, meanwhile, blamed the “destructive course of the military and political leadership” in Kiev, which he said sought to destabilize the situation in Donbass.

Last week, Ukrainian warships held exercises in the Black Sea together with the Romanian Navy’s Horia Macellariu corvette.

They practised repelling attacks by high-speed boats and coordinating joint activities.

Similar exercises were carried out in February involving ships from the United States.

For almost seven years, parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along Ukraine’s Russian border – collectively known as Donbass – have been controlled by separatists loyal to Moscow.

According to UN estimates, more than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting. A peace plan agreed in 2015 with Franco-German mediation is on hold.

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