Russian Warships Stage Black Sea Drills Ahead of U.S. Arrivals

The Russian Navy has launched drills in the Black Sea ahead of two U.S. warships’ reported arrival in the area amid tensions over Russia’s massive troop buildup near Ukraine, state media reported Wednesday.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet deployed a frigate, minesweeper, three corvettes and an unspecified number of landing ships to navigate simulated minefields, according to the TASS news agency.

“At sea, the ships’ crews will individually and jointly test fire artillery on surface and air targets,” the Black Sea Fleet was quoted as saying.

The maneuvers were also reported to involve naval aviation aircraft and helicopters, as well as air defense units.

The Black Sea drills follow Turkey’s announcement that the United States had notified it of plans to send two warships to the area this Wednesday and Thursday.

They also come the day after Russia’s defense minister said its troop buildup that has worried Ukraine and its Western allies was part of two-week readiness exercises.

Kiev estimates that Russia has deployed 41,000 troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and 42,000 in annexed Crimea.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said two armies and three airborne formations have been deployed in response to NATO’s threatening activities near Russia.

Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, echoing Shoigu, said Wednesday that Russia amassed its military near Ukraine in response to “increased NATO and especially U.S. activity in near proximity to Russian borders.”

Last month, the Black Sea Fleet said it deployed all six of its submarines as NATO kicked off drills in the area.

The Russian military had announced some 4,000 drills throughout the month of April as part of so-called “winter period control checks.”

3 Russian Soldiers Killed in Supersonic Bomber Accident

Three Russian soldiers have died in a supersonic bomber accident at a military airfield near Moscow, state media reported Tuesday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the deaths of three soldiers as a result of the Tupolev Tu-22M3 incident at the Shaykovka air base in the Kaluga region, the TASS news agency said.

“An ejection seat went off when the engines started on the ground. Three people were killed, including the captain who was sitting in the instructor’s seat,” TASS quoted an unnamed regional security source as saying. The source added that a fourth crew member survived.

The local emergency service said there were no civilian casualties.

The Defense Ministry said it has launched an investigation into the cause of the accident.

An unnamed source familiar with the incident told RIA Novosti that it does not qualify as an air crash because it took place on the ground.

In 2019, three crew members were killed when another Tu-22M3 crashed in a snow squall in northwestern Russia’s Murmansk region.

The Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, with dozens still in operation in modern-day Russia. The planes were designed to destroy land and sea targets with guided missiles and are able to carry nuclear weapons.

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