- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2019

Russia has put its warships steaming through the Black Sea on alert, after several of NATO combat vessels deployed to the region for bilateral drills with the Ukrainian navy.

The Canadian frigate HMCS Toronto and Spanish frigate ESPS Santa Maria docked in the port city of Odessa after conducting a weeklong mission with two other vessels attached to NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, according to an alliance statement.

Following the port call in Odessa, the Canadian vessel will rendezvous “with Ukrainian Navy ships in the Black Sea to enhance interoperability” between Kiev’s fleet and its European allies, NATO officials said.

Russian forces are keeping a wary eye on the deployment. Russian forces annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and have retained a heavy military presence in and around the country since then.

“The Black Sea Fleet is monitoring the movement of a group of three NATO vessels that entered the Black Sea, which belong to the Netherlands, Canada and Spain,” officials from Russia’s National Defense Management Center said on Friday.

The NATO deployments came a day after the first round of Ukraine’s presidential elections. Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiyand incumbent President Petro Poroshenko will take place in a runoff election later this month, after Mr. Zelenskiy captured 30 percent of the vote out of 39 candidates during Sunday’s elections.

Last November, Russian warships fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews in the Kerch Strait, off the Crimea peninsula. Moscow claimed the ships illegally entering Russian waters while Kiev says the attacks were unprovoked.

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