The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is making its presence felt in Russia’s back yard as it conducts manoeuvres in the Black Sea.
Since the onset of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has stepped up its military exercises with a greater number of naval drills and NATO reports of incursions by Russian fighter jets and bombers. It comes as the country’s economy continues to suffer under international sanctions imposed by the West over allegations that Russia has been providing troops and military equipment to pro-Moscow rebels in the east of Ukraine.
Indeed ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet have cropped up in the English Channel twice over the past few months, while RAF jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian bomber off the coast of Cornwall last month as the country has flexed its military muscle.
In this light, the “scheduled deployment” of six NATO ships into the Black Sea was bound to ruffle a few feathers. And, boy, has it.
The Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNGM2) is currently on operations in the Black Sea conducting training exercises including simulated anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises.
The NATO group were on a port visit to the Romanian port of Constanta. It just happens to be on the doorstep of Crimea, the region annexed by Russia in March last year.
The USS Vicksburg is the flagship of SNGM2. The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser boasts the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a Mk 45 lightweight gun.
It is joined by the Canadian Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton, armed with anti-submarine Mark 46 torpedoes, anti-missile Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile system, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and six .50 Calibre machine guns.
The Turkish navy has also contributed to the NATO effort with the Yavuz-class frigate TCG Turgutreis taking part in the exercises. Its arsenal includes the Sea Zenith, an advanced four-barrelled weapons system capable of firing 800 rounds a minute to defend against missiles and other precision-guided weapons.
The group is being supported by the Spessart, a Rhön-class tanker commissioned by the German Navy in 1977. The ship previously survived an attack by a 7-man pirate boat with its on-board security team repelling the would-be attackers with small arms fire.
The Italian Mistral-class missile frigate Aliseo is another of the older ships in SNGM2, having entered service in September 1983. It is armed with four Otomat long-range anti-ship missiles and an Otobreda 127mm/54 Compact cannon.
And the final member of the NATO group is ROS Regina Maria. The Type 22 frigate was sold to the Romanian navy by Britain in 2003, and entered service again in 2005.
The NATO presence in the region prompted a reaction by Moscow. On Monday, Vladimir Putin gave the order to put the Northern Fleet, which consists of 41 ships, 15 submarines and 38,000 military personnel, on full alert.
The current flagship of the Northern Fleet is the battle cruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great). It is among the largest surface combat warships in the world and carries a crew of 727.
The exercises are currently being held on land, in sea and air and will run for five days beginning March 16.
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