By Yusuf Hatip
BRUSSELS (AA) – NATO ships are routinely patrolling the Black Sea and will continue to assess its presence in the region, the alliance’s spokesperson said in the wake of the maritime tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in Brussels, Oana Lungescu said that NATO has substantially increased its presence in the Black Sea, since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“Today, NATO ships routinely patrol and exercise in the Black Sea,” Lungescu said. “There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region."
Her remarks came after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on NATO member countries, including Germany, to send their vessels to the Sea of Azov to back his country.
During her interview, Lungescu recalled that NATO ships spent 120 days in the Black Sea this year, compared to 80 in 2017.
“Several allies conduct NATO air policing in the region, and allies also conduct regular reconnaissance flights over the Black Sea. We also have a Romanian-led multinational brigade based in Craiova.
“Three NATO members — Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey — are littoral states, with their own national capabilities deployed in the Black Sea region," she added.
On Sunday, Russia seized two Ukrainian navy ships and a navy tugboat along with 23 crew members off Crimea, accusing Kiev of entering its waters and provoking a conflict.
It said the vessels had ignored calls to stop, sparking military action.
Russia intervened as the Ukrainian ships were relocating from the Black Sea port of Odessa to the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine also accused Russian warships of opening fire on the ships, asserting that crew members were wounded and the vessels were seized by Russia.
Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea after a controversial referendum.
Turkey, as well as the UN General Assembly, viewed the annexation as illegal.
Ukraine has also blamed Russia for separatist violence in eastern Ukraine, near the border with Russia.