Russia’s Black Sea fleet has launched naval combat exercises as a US coastguard vessel made its way to the region amid simmering tensions between Russia and the West.
Moscow recently alarmed Kyiv and Western capitals by building up its forces along the Ukrainian border, though last week it ordered a withdrawal of some troops.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet said on Tuesday its Moskva cruiser would hold live-fire drills with other ships and military helicopters, the Interfax news agency reported.
The fleet’s announcement came hours after US Naval Forces in Europe said cutter Hamilton, a US Coast Guard vessel, was moving into the Black Sea to work with NATO allies and partners in the region.
Russia has accused the United States and NATO of fuelling military tensions in Europe. It has said the Russian troop build-up near the Ukrainian border was part of drills in response to what it called NATO’s threatening behaviour.
Russia in recent weeks had deployed up to 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders and in Crimea.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that Russia had not pulled back its forces from the Ukrainian border because of external pressure, adding that Moscow moved troops around on its own territory as it saw fit.
“The actions of the US and NATO in the European region to increase the combat readiness of troops and strengthen their forward presence is contributing to an increase in military danger,” Shoigu said in comments circulated by the defence ministry.
Kyiv and the West have said it is too early to assess Russia’s troop drawdown.
“We cannot guarantee 100 percent that Russian troops won’t turn around,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a statement on Tuesday.
A senior US defence official told Reuters news agency on Friday it was seeing some Russian personnel withdrawing and that Moscow’s announcement of its redeployment alone was “insufficient to give us comfort”.
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been dire since Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.
A ceasefire that took hold last July has been shredded this year, with clashes sharply increasing between Ukrainian forces and separatists since January.
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian army reported one soldier was killed and three others injured after their vehicle hit a mine.
About 30 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the year compared with 50 in all of 2020, while the separatists have reported at least 20 military deaths.
The separatists are widely seen as having Russia’s political and military backing – which Moscow denies – in the conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.