The US Navy is sending Russia a message in the Black Sea

The US Navy sent an additional Arleigh Burke-class destroyer into the Black Sea on Feb. 17, 2018 to “conduct maritime security operations” in the region.

The USS Carney joined the USS Ross to patrol a body of water that has become increasingly tense since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Crimea is the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and is where Russian jets have had close intercepts with US Navy aircraft in recent months.

“Our decision to have two ships simultaneously operate in the Black Sea is proactive, not reactive,” Vice Adm. Christopher Grady said in a Navy release. “We operate at the tempo and timing of our choosing in this strategically important region.”

This is the first time two US Navy warships have been in the Black Sea since NATO and Ukraine conducted naval defense drills in July 2017. The exercise involved more than 3,000 members.

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US military officials told CNN that the purpose of the deployment was to “desensitize Russia to the presence of US military forces there,” and to help “establish rules for how the two countries should safely operate in proximity to each other, as they did in the Cold War.”

Russia responded to the announcement on Feb. 20, 2018, and said they are tracking the destroyers. “If they demonstrate any hostile or provocative actions … they will get a response and will be served accordingly,” Russian Admiral Vladimir Valuev said.

US Russia Black Sea USS Ross

The guided missile destroyer USS Ross. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg)

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union effectively controlled the entirety of the Black Sea, though Turkey has determined who can enter and exit the body of water since the sixteenth century.

But in the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost all of the Black Sea nations have either joined NATO, or had their relations with Russia deteriorate due to armed conflict.

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Russia is very sensitive about the Black Sea and has been militarizing Crimea since its annexation in 2014. “Basically anything new that they have they are putting in Crimea,” a US defense official based in Europe told CNN.

In addition to close intercepts with the US Navy, the sea has seen a number of incidents with other nations. In 2016, Turkish President said that the Black Sea had “nearly become a Russian lake,” and Ukraine claimed in 2017 that guns from a Russian-occupied oil rig had shot at a military plane, which Russia subsequently denied.