Russia has reportedly tested the readiness of its air defence systems in Crimea, an apparent show of force as Ukraine and NATO countries hold military drills in the Black Sea as part of their Sea Breeze 2021 exercise.
Russia deployed about 20 warplanes and helicopters, including Su-24M bombers, as well as S-400 and Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems in the tests, Interfax reported on Tuesday, citing Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
It was not clear when the tests took place.
“The Black Sea Fleet is doing a number of things to monitor the actions of ships from NATO and other countries taking part in Sea Breeze 2021,” the National Defence Management Centre said in a statement.
Russia had called for the military exercises, which have taken place 21 times since 1997, to be cancelled and the Russian defence ministry has said it will react if necessary to ensure national security.
Sea Breeze 2021, which began on Monday, will last two weeks and involve about 5,000 military personnel from NATO member states and other allies of the transatlantic security alliance.
The United States Marine Corps will take part, as will about 30 US ships and 40 aircraft, including the missile destroyer USS Ross.
Ukrainian navy commander Oleksiy Neizhpapa said during an opening ceremony in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa that the exercises would send a “powerful message to maintain stability and peace in our region.”
Ukraine is an ally of NATO, but not a member.
Moscow warns US, UK against ‘tempting fate’
Russia on Monday denounced “the scale and aggressiveness” of the drills which “hardly contribute to security in the Black Sea region”.
The military exercises and Russian tests come amid soaring tensions between Moscow and Western powers.
The situation deteriorated further last week over a disputed Black Sea incident on June 23 between Russia and the United Kingdom.
Moscow said it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship, HMS Defender, to chase it out of Black Sea waters off the coast of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Moscow considers Crimea Russian territory, but the peninsula is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine which wants it back.
The UK rejected Russia’s account of the incident, and has claimed its Royal Navy destroyer was making a routine journey through an internationally recognised travel lane and had remained in Ukrainian waters near Crimea.
Any shots fired were a preannounced Russian “gunnery exercise”, and no bombs were dropped, the UK said.
Later, Moscow warned NATO members the UK and the US against “tempting fate” by sending warships to the Black Sea, and said it would defend its borders using all possible means including military force.
The latest frictions add to a list of disputes between Moscow and Western powers.
The two sides are divided on a range of issues, including the situation in Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in the country’s war-torn east since 2014, Belarus, human rights, arms control, election interference, cyber-hacking and the role played by NATO in European affairs.