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US sends patrol boats to back up Ukrainian navy in Black Sea amid tensions with Russia

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)
US flagged general cargo ship Ocean Grand, carrying two US Coast Guard cutters, sails in the Dardanelles, on its way to the Black Sea, in Canakkale,Turkey, on November 20, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The United States has sent two patrol boats to beef up the Ukrainian navy amid escalating tensions between Kiev and Moscow over accusations of Russian military buildup near Ukraine and in the Black Sea region.

Media reports said an American cargo ship, carrying two refitted former US Coast Guard patrol boats, transited the Dardanelles strait in northwestern Turkey on Saturday.

The US-flagged general cargo ship Ocean Grand, carrying the two Island-class patrol boats, had departed Baltimore for the Ukrainian port of Odessa on November 8 as part of a $2.5 billion security package that was promised after the Crimean Peninsula reunited with Russia in 2014.

Reuters reported that Ukrainian sailors have already undergone extensive training on the vessels in the United States and that Kiev received two similar vessels in 2019.

The US State Department earlier in the year approved the potential sale to Ukraine of up to 16 Mark VI patrol boats and equipment for an estimated $600 million.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West on Thursday of escalating the situation in Ukraine by providing Kiev with “lethal modern weapons” and holding drills in the Black Sea region.

The Russian leader said Moscow has been "constantly” raising concerns about the US naval exercises in the strategic region, but the West is taking Russia's warnings lightly.

Ukraine has claimed there are nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers near its border, and the United States has issued warnings over a possible attack by Russia.

Moscow categorically has rejected the possibility of an attack, saying Washington is involved in aggressive moves in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States held military drills during the weekend.

The Russian Defense Ministry said last week that the US is setting up a multinational group of armed forces close to Russia's eastern border in the Black Sea region.

The ministry said the US Navy's guided-missile destroyer Porter, tanker vessel John Lenthall, and command ship Mount Whitney were deployed to the Black Sea to take part in multinational drills conducted by the US European Command.

The Russian president harshly denounced the "provocative" move and said unscheduled NATO drills in the strategic Black Sea region posed a serious challenge for Moscow.

President Putin and other top Russian officials have already warned the expansion of NATO activities near Russia’s borders is a "red line" for Moscow.

NATO has expressed determination to reinforce the security of member states close to Russia following what it claims to be Moscow's “annexation” of Crimea and its backing for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained since the conflict erupted in Ukraine's eastern region of Donbass between Ukrainian government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014.

The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim that Russia has a hand in the conflict. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation. The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty that year and more than 90 percent of the participants in the plebiscite voted in favor of unification.

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