MOSCOW (Reuters) – 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.
Moscow called for the Sea Breeze military exercises to be cancelled before they began, and the Russian defence ministry has said it will react if necessary to protect national security.
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.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Heavens/Andrew Osborn)