By passing through the Bosporus Strait on Saturday, the Navy’s guided missile destroyer Donald Cook became the second American warship to enter the Black Sea this month amid ongoing tensions with Moscow.
Two weeks before, the dock landing ship Fort McHenry arrived at the Romanian port of Constanta to begin exercises with Bucharest’s frigate Regele Ferdinand — while being shadowed by a Russian warship.
The Donald Cook pulled into Batumi, Georgia, on Monday with a mission to “strengthen interoperability with NATO allies and partners and demonstrate the collective resolve to Black Sea security under Operation Atlantic Resolve,” according to a prepared statement released by the Navy.
"I would like to thank our Georgian hosts for the warm welcome and hospitality,” said Cmdr. Matthew J. Powel, commanding officer of Donald Cook said in the release. “We are honored to play an active role in strengthening U.S.- Georgian relations and we look forward to visiting Batumi.”
Sailors planted trees Tuesday for a community service project in Georgia’s second largest city and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer’s leaders met with American and foreign dignitaries at a reception featuring an address by Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Georgia.
“Strengthening alliances during the port visit to Batumi demonstrates the shared commitment between the United States and Georgia to promote safety and stability in the region while seeking opportunities to enhance cooperation between both countries,” said Wilson in his speech.
Students from the Georgian Maritime Academy also toured the warship and officials from the Georgian Coast Guard held a confab with American officers on the destroyer’s bridge.
The Donald Cook and the Fort McHenry are the first two American warships to enter the Black Sea since Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels on Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait, sparking an international incident and rounds of reprisals between Moscow and Kiev.
Relations between Russia and the U.S. have been chilly since Moscow’s early 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, an act that drew economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Russian meddling in the America’s 2016 presidential election didn’t improve the standoff, despite efforts from President Donald Trump to improve ties with Moscow.
Fort McHenry later exited the Black Sea to transit of the Suez Canal on Jan. 15 and enter the 5th Fleet’s area of operations, according to Cmdr. Kyle Raines, spokesman for the U.S. 6th Fleet.
Forward-deployed to the Spanish port of Rota, the Donald Cook is on its eighth patrol in the 6th Fleet’s AO, which straddles Africa and Europe.
The Black Sea is no stranger to Donald Cook or the other Rota-based destroyers — Carney, Ross and Porter.
Ross and Porter made port visits in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine over the past year and the Carney sailed the Black Sea three times in 2018.
In 2016, the Donald Cook briefly took part in another international incident triggered by Russia.
While on a routine patrol, two unarmed Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack jets buzzed the warship — once flying within 30 feet of the vessel — to pantomime what U.S. officials called “simulated attacks.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.