Russia tested the readiness of its air defence systems in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as Ukraine and NATO countries held military drills in the Black Sea, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday.
The Sea Breeze exercise, which began on Monday, follows a rise in tensions between NATO and Moscow, which said last week it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of Black Sea waters off the coast of Crimea.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet was cited by Interfax as saying it had deployed around 20 warplanes and helicopters, including Su-24M bombers, as well as S-400 and Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems in the readiness tests.
Moscow considers Crimea part of Russia, but the peninsula is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine which wants it back.
“The Black Sea Fleet is doing a number of things to monitor the actions of ships from NATO and other countries taking part in Sea Breeze 2021,” Interfax quoted the National Defence Management Centre as saying in a separate statement.
The 2021 edition of the annual military exercise Sea Breeze kicked off in the northwestern part of the Black Sea on Monday, with the Russian Navy monitoring the movement of participating ships. The drills, which involve about 5,000 soldiers and 32 warships from 32 countries, will run through 10 July.
“The crews of aircraft and helicopters of the Black Sea Fleet and the air force formation of the Southern Military District conducted training with battalions of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and units of the Pantsir self-propelled missile and gun systems during a readiness check of the duty forces and air defence systems of the Crimean Peninsula”, Rulyov said.
Sea Breeze 2021 will last two weeks and involve about 5,000 military personnel from NATO and other allies, and around 30 ships and 40 aircraft. U.S. missile destroyer USS Ross and the U.S. Marine Corps will take part.
Russia last week warned Britain and the United States against “tempting fate” by sending warships to the Black Sea, and said it would defend its borders using all possible means including military force.