Moscow – On Tuesday, Russia warned the United States not to send warships to the Black Sea, urging US forces to stay away from the annexed Crimean peninsula “for their own good” becausewas of growing concern to the West. The US Secretary of State, meeting with Ukrainian and NATO officials in Brussels, made it clear that the Biden administration, along with its allies in Europe, has the back of Ukraine and considers in the region “very provocative.”
On Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Washington had informed Ankara that two US warships would pass through Turkish waters this week to be stationed in the Black Sea. The deployment will come amid a significant escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces.
The hostilities flared up for the first time in 2014, when– a peninsula that protrudes into the Black Sea and is home to a Russian naval base – far from Ukraine, condemning the Western world and a series of sanctions.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by Russian news agencies on Tuesday as calling the deployment of US warships in the Black Sea a provocation aimed at testing Russia’s nerves.
“There is absolutely nothing for American ships to do near our shores,” Ryabkov said, warning that there is a very high risk of unspecified incidents if US military hardware is to be deployed in the Black Sea.
“We warn the United States that it would be better to stay away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by BTA. “It will be for their good.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined during a regular press briefing on Friday to confirm the Turkish government’s statement that US warships had been sent to the Black Sea. He noted that the United States “routinely” operates in the Black Sea, but said it would not “talk to operations.”
The current escalation has strained the already tense relations between the United States and Russia. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Russia against aggressive actions in an interview broadcast over the weekend, saying any aggression in Ukraine would have consequences.
Ryabkov responded on Tuesday, accusing Russia’s “adversary” of trying to undermine Russia’s position on the international stage. He reaffirmed Russia’s readiness to defend the interests of its citizens and ethnic Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was preparing in case new sanctions were to be imposed on Moscow by the United States or its global partners.
Russia, meanwhile, has continued to move forces to both Crimea and the region along its border with Ukraine. The defense ministry announced on Tuesday that 15 warships and vessels from the Caspian flotilla had been sent to the Black Sea as part of pre-announced military exercises.
Ukraine said earlier this week that Russia had already gathered more than 40,000 troops along its border and at least 40,000 more in Crimea. Russia says the troop build-up is part of the exercise and stressed that its forces will go where they want and when they want on Russian territory.
“Very provocative action”
Top US officials are in Europe this week, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Blinken. Austin announced during a stop in Germany on Tuesday that the United States would deploy an additional 500 troops in that country.
Asked if the move was intended as a message to Russia, he said it was a “sign to NATO” of the US commitment to the transatlantic alliance and its firm commitment to Germany. Under President Donald Trump, Washington said it would withdraw thousands of U.S. forces that have been stationed in Germany for decades. This decision was stopped by the Biden administration and now the force must increase.
Blinken, meanwhile, was in Brussels, meeting with NATO partners and meeting separately with his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss the conflict with Russia.
“The United States stands firmly behind Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I will confirm that today with the foreign minister,” Blinken said. “This is especially important at a time when we see, unfortunately, Russia taking very provocative actions when it comes to Ukraine. We are now seeing the largest concentration of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border since 2014. This is a major concern not only for Ukraine, but for the United States and indeed for many of our allies and partners. ”
Sitting across from him, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that the Russian accumulation “is taking place not only on the border of Ukraine, but also on the border of the democratic world. Thousands of kilometers north and east of our border with Russia, there is no democracy. And thus, this is the struggle between democracies and authoritarianism, and in this struggle the support of the United States is extremely important and deeply appreciated. “
Kuleba also thanked NATO and said the warnings, which had already been conveyed to Moscow through a diplomatic channel, “would be supported by actions that made it very clear to Russia that the cost of further aggression against Ukraine would be too heavy for to bear it. ”
He said Ukrainian and US delegations in Brussels and NATO allies in general would continue to discuss ways to ensure stability along his country’s tense border with Russia.
Although NATO deployments have not been confirmed, Russia’s defense ministry says the alliance plans to deploy another 40,000 troops and 15,000 pieces of military equipment near Russian territory. He did not give further details, but said that “in response to the alliance’s military activity, which threatens Russia, we have taken appropriate measures.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier on Tuesday that he was “seriously concerned” about the deployment of additional forces from Russia to the Ukrainian border.
“Russia is now trying to restore some sphere of influence, where they are trying to decide what their neighbors can do,” Stoltenberg said.
Tucker Reals of CBSNews.com contributed to this report.