Russia is conducting military drills in annexed Crimea this week, Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet announced in a press release Thursday.
“Seven large amphibious assault ships” from Russia’s Black Sea, Northern, and Baltic Fleets and “15 landing and artillery craft” from Russia’s Caspian Flotilla in Crimea will converge off the Crimean Peninsula this week to simulate “defense of a naval group,” Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported on April 22.
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, located north of the Black Sea, from Ukraine in 2014 and has recently increased its military presence in the territory.
“The naval strike groups comprising missile corvettes and boats are providing anti-ship defense for the amphibious assault force,” Russia’s Black Sea fleet said in a press statement.
The statement read:
The crews of small anti-submarine warfare ships operating as part of a naval hunter-killer force are searching for a notional enemy’s submarines, providing anti-subsurface warfare defense for the amphibious assault ships. The naval strike groups are being shielded from the air by aircraft of naval aviation and an Air Force and Air Defense formation of the Southern Military District.
Russia’s military warned on Tuesday it would block flights over annexed Crimea and the Black Sea to facilitate air and naval drills this week.
The Russian Air Force issued an official “notice to airmen” (NOTAM) ordering pilots to block flights over the airspace covering “the southern part of Crimea (from Sevastopol to Feodosia), territorial waters adjacent to the southern coast of Crimea, as well as over part of the international waters of the Black Sea” from April 20-24, the Russian state news agency Interfax reported.
“The area has been declared temporarily dangerous for aircraft flights,” the NOTAM read.
Russia has amassed upwards of 100,000 troops near Ukraine and in Crimea in recent weeks, according to European Union estimates. “Observers and the White House call it the largest troop buildup since the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists first broke out in 2014,” the Moscow Times noted Tuesday.
Russia’s growing presence in Crimea has increased tension between Moscow and Kyiv in recent days. Russian border guards in Crimea recently detained a Ukrainian fishing boat for “illegally fishing in Russia’s exclusive economic zone” in the Black Sea. The vessel was reportedly fishing in an area northwest of Cape Priboyny, considered the westernmost point of the Crimean Peninsula. A Russian court “ruled to impose a fine of 257,000 rubles ($3,354) on the vessel’s captain and confiscated the fishing nets,” the Border Control Directorate of Russia’s Federal Security Service in Crimea told reporters on April 22.