The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Hamilton is en route to the Black Sea to train alongside NATO allies and partners in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over its buildup of forces along Ukraine's border.
The U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet announced Tuesday that the vessel is headed to the Black Sea, after operating alongside the guided-missile destroyer Roosevelt in the Aegean Sea this week. Photos posted on social media showed the cutter transiting through Turkey's Bosphorus strait.
The news comes the same day that Russia began its naval combat exercise, moving its Moskva cruiser into the region for live-fire drills, Reuters reported.
Earlier this month, the U.S. was considering moving two ships into the Black Sea after Russia announced it was sending 10 vessels there amid its troop increase along Ukraine's eastern border.
Media outlets reported that the U.S. sought permission last month from Turkey to transit its straits into the sea, as required by the 1936 Montreux Convention -- signaling the U.S. anticipated the move -- though Navy officials stressed that its ships routinely operate in the Black Sea region. The ships are expected to remain there until at least May, according to the Middle East Eye.
Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatist rebels since the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have observed a mass buildup -- more than 85,000 Russian troops -- on its eastern front as well as in Crimea, increasingly concerning NATO.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that Russia's Defence Ministry ordered some troops to withdraw last week; however, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said some of those troops moved to other territories as required, according to Reuters.
Shoygu last week said the buildup is a direct response to the U.S. and NATO holding their own exercises in close proximity to Russia's borders.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov criticized the news of the potential U.S. ship deployment, stating, "American ships have absolutely nothing to do near our shores," according to The Associated Press.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on April 2 about the new buildup of Russian troops near the border. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this month said administration officials have also had discussions with NATO allies on the increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and are monitoring the situation.