The Navy has deployed the guided-missile destroyer Carney to join the destroyer Ross in the Black Sea in a move that U.S. military officials told CNN is intended to “desensitize” Russia to the presence of American military assets in the strategically important region.
The deployment of the Carney marks the first time in four years that two American destroyers have operated in the Black Sea outside of scheduled exercises. The move comes as Russia continues to militarize Crimea, the peninsula it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
In recent years, the U.S. and NATO have accused Russia of sending troops and military hardware to Crimea, and there are now reports that submarines have been added to the mix.
Nevertheless, U.S. and NATO officials have insisted that they are not playing tit-for-tat with the Russians.
“Our decision to have two ships simultaneously operate in the Black Sea is proactive, not reactive,” said Vice Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of 6th Fleet, which oversees U.S. naval operations in the region. “The continued presence of the U.S. Navy in the Black Sea demonstrates our enduring commitment to regional stability, maritime security of our Black Sea partners, and the collective defense of our NATO allies,” he added.
The Black Sea sits between Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Western Asia, and is bordered by several NATO nations.
The sea has long been a contentious region for U.S. and Russian military forces, but tensions spiked after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Since then, there have been several skirmishes between Russian forces looking to assert their ownership of the region and U.S. forces asserting their right to operate in international waters and airspace.
Russia is preparing to kick off its wargame exercises – just as east-west relations are at their most strained since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The last time the U.S. sent a multi-destroyer security patrol to the Black Sea was during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, shortly before the Crimea annexation.
U.S. warships have participated in multilateral military exercises in the Black Sea since then, including a recent trip for the annual Sea Breeze exercise.
The destroyers Carney and Ross are both equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, which a U.S. defense official told CNN the Russians are especially sensitive to.
Both U.S. ships are forward deployed to Naval Station Rota, Spain, and regularly patrol the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.