Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. destroyer USS Donald Cook has docked in western Georgia to participate in joint drills under the observation of Russian vessels in the Black Sea.
The arrival comes two months after Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea. The Ukrainian ships were fired upon, and 24 crew members were detained. The Ukrainian ships illegally crossed the Russian maritime border on the sea, Russia said, and a criminal case was opened.
Russian state news agency Tass reported that Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been monitoring the Cook since it entered the Black Sea on Saturday.
The destroyer includes strike and defense capabilities with missiles guns, cannons and torpedoes.
"The Russians place great stock in both of these American capabilities and view them as inherently destabilizing," Michael Petersen, director of the Naval War College's Russia Maritime Studies Institute, told Stars & Stripes.
The Cook, which is forward deployed to Rota, Spain, entered the Black Sea "to strengthen interoperability with NATO allies and partners and demonstrate the collective resolve to Black Sea security under Operation Atlantic Resolve," the Navy said.
The ship, with a crew of 306, was welcomed by government officials, the Government of Georgia's Adjara Autonomous Republic said in a press release. Activities with the Georgian Coastal Guard are planned.
"I would like to thank our Georgian hosts for the warm welcome and hospitality," said Cmdr. Matthew J. Powel, commanding officer of USS Donald Cook, which was commissioned in 1998. "We are honored to play an active role in strengthening U.S.-Georgian relations and we look forward to visiting Batumi."
The destroyer is part of the U.S. 6th Fleet, which serves Europe and Africa.
As part of the Montreux Convention and international law, warships from non-Black Sea countries can remain in the area for a maximum of 21 days.
"The United States and the U.S. Navy continue to stand alongside our allies in defense of shared regional interests and maritime stability," Powel said in a press release Saturday. "Our arrival into the Black Sea will showcase the Navy's interoperability in pursuit of common security objectives, enabling us to respond effectively to future crises or deterring aggression."
In 2008, Russia and Georgia fought for one week over two Georgian territories claimed by Russian-backed separatists. Georgia, which was a republic of the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991, subsequently lost control over about 20 percent of its territory.
Last year, several ships, including the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Ross, USS Carney and USS Porter conducted operations in the Black Sea.