Russia continued to ramp up its military presence in the Black Sea over the weekend as two more warships and 15 smaller vessels moved to the waterway amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow.
The two Russian ships, capable of carrying tanks and armored vehicles as well as troops for coastal assault traveled through the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey on Saturday, Reuters reported.
More naval reinforcements – including landing ships from the Baltic fleet – are expected to arrive at the Black Sea in the coming days to support the thousands of troops and armored vehicles already in position near Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine.
The Biden administration last Thursday scrubbed sending two US warships to the Black Sea after the Kremlin warned “stay away for your own good” to the deployment.
The U-turn came shortly before the White House slapped sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2020 presidential election and for the SolarWinds hack that infiltrated the computers of hundreds of government agencies and private sector businesses.
A senior administration official said the administration did not want the already tense situation in the region to “spin out of control.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the sanctions by expelling 10 US diplomats and threatened to carry through on other retaliatory moves as part of the charged showdown between the two superpowers.
Putin also cut off access to the Kerch Strait last week to foreign warships until this fall.
The strait links Russia and Crimea, which Putin illegally annexed in 2014, prompting a round of sanctions from the US and its European allies.
Since then fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatist troops have killed thousands.