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Russia sends warships to Black Sea amid US buildup in Ukraine

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo taken on Sept. 9, 2016, shows Russian navy ships and helicopters taking a part in a landing operation during military drills in the Black Sea coast of Crimea. (Photo by AP)

Russia is sending more than 10 navy vessels, including landing boats and artillery warships, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea to take part in naval drills near the country's borders with Ukraine, Interfax reports.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the fleet is moving to the area as part of the drills that involve approximately 15,000 personnel and will inspect combat readiness of the country’s naval forces by the end of this month.

“As part of the winter training check, more than 10 amphibious and artillery boats and vessels of the southern military district are conducting an inter-fleet move from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea,” the ministry said.

The Caspian Flotilla vessels will join their Russian Navy counterparts in the Black Sea for exercises focused on testing their "readiness to repel sea and airborne assault forces," it said. 

Russian officials have underlined that the deployment poses no threat and is part of the recently announced "control checks."

The statement about the deployment of the Caspian Flotilla vessels has coincided with Ukraine announcing its own snap naval drills in the Black Sea and the US navy mulling the deployment of its warships in that body of water in a show of force.

Moreover, media reports said the US air force had sent two B-1B bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota on a long-range, round-trip mission to the Aegean Sea, just located to the southeast of the Black Sea.

Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in the Crimea, which rejoined Russia in a referendum in 2014 when more than 90 percent of the participants voted in favor of that unification.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame in recent weeks for a spike in violence in the Russian-speaking eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces have fought a conflict that has killed 14,000 people since 2014 by Ukraine’s estimate.

Kiev and its Western allies brand the reunification as the annexation of Ukrainian land by Russia and accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow, however, denies the allegations.

Siding with Ukraine, the European Union has followed Washington's lead in leveling several rounds of sanctions against Moscow.

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