The cruiser Vella Gulf will be the fourth U.S. warship to visit the Black Sea since Russia-Ukraine tensions began to boil over. (Navy)
The Navy has dispatched a cruiser to the Black Sea in the latest sign that Washington is ramping up pressure on the Kremlin’s power play in Ukraine after a disputed referendum and ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.
The cruiser Vella Gulf entered the area May 23 “to promote peace and stability in the region,” according to a 6th Fleet news release — a markedly sharper tone than previous releases.
The announcement came more than week after the hotly disputed referendum in Eastern Ukraine that declared independence from Kiev. The U.S., its European allies and Russia have all said they will not recognize the results of the referendum.
Separatists in Eastern Ukraine have increasingly clashed with government forces, leading to the death of more than 125 people, according to United Nations tallies.
The choice to send a cruiser ups the firepower in the area. The cruiser carries two 5-inch deck guns and two full arrays of missile launchers, and is skippered by an O-6.
The Navy’s top officer said Wednesday that the Russian navy has been paying close attention to U.S. ships in the Black Sea.
“Our ships in the Black Sea have been shadowed, typically by a warship and by an intelligence ship, but they’ve been typically shadowed,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said during a meeting with reporters. “There have been conversations, they’ve been professional. The shadowing has been at a standoff of two, five, maybe seven miles, depending on visibility. The interactions have been, [the] vast majority, professional.”
Greenert said that interactions between the two navies have generally adhered to Cold War-era doctrines for encounters between the two forces. The exception: An April incident when a Russian fighter made several low-altitude flybys over the Donald Cook.
“By and large, they have been good, safe mariners,” he said.