The USS Donald Cook transits the Dardanelles Strait on Tuesday before entering the Black Sea. Photo by Mass Communication Spec. 2nd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy
Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The USS Donald Cook and ships from NATO's Standing Mine Countermeasures Group 2 entered the Black Sea on Tuesday, with their movements tracked by Russian vessels.
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer departed Batumi, Georgia, where it conducted an exercise with two of the nation's coast guard ships, according to the U.S. Navy.
"Each visit here affords us the unique opportunity to work with our regional maritime partners," Cmdr. Matthew Powel, commanding officer of Donald Cook. "The crew and I look forward to experiencing the rich history and culture in this region."
The Arleigh Burke-class ship, which is forward-deployed in Rota, Spain, was last in the Black Sea on Jan. 28.
This time the ship will "conduct maritime security operations and enhance regional maritime stability, combined readiness and naval capability with our NATO allies and partners in the region," the U.S. Sixth Fleet press office said.
Because allied nations border the Black Sea, NATO regularly conducts exercises and operations in the Black Sea "to maintain a credible and capable defensive capability," NATO said in a news release.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO said it has increased its presence in the Black Sea. NATO Maritime Groups patrols increased in 2018 to 120 days from 80 days in 2017.
Russia's Orekhovo-Zuevo missile corvette and the Ivan Khurs naval reconnaissance ship are monitoring the situation.
"Russia's Black Sea Fleet assigned forces and means to continuously monitor the actions of the American destroyer," the Russian National Defense Control Center said in a statement published by Sputnik News.
Also entering the Black Sea on Tuesday were the German Navy replenishment oiler FGS Werra and Turkish minesweeper TCG Akçakoca from NATO's SNMCMG2. In the Black Sea, they were joined by Bulgarian mine hunter BGS Tsibar, while the Romanian minesweeper ROS Lt. Lupu Dinescu also is scheduled to arrive there.
NATO's contingent will go to Varna, Bulgaria, from Thursday and Feb. 25 before heading to Constanța, Romania.
Bulgarian Navy Rear Adm. Mitko Petev, commander of the Tsibar, said the exercises demonstrate the alliance's commitment to each country.
"So, that's not extraordinary. It is not dictated by any military or political necessity," Rear Admiral Mitko Petev said in an interview with bTV. "SNMCMG2 is the most prepared group of NATO's Response Force, the standards in this group are extremely high."
In early March, Romania and Bulgaria will host the mine countermeasure exercise Poseidon 2019.
"Maritime missions with various scenarios will be carried out. Including countering asymmetric threats and mine countermeasures in a given area," Petev said.