Russia, UK bolster Black Sea presence amid latest Ukraine row

Both Moscow and Kyiv have expelled a diplomat in the latest escalation of tensions

Russia and Britain are both sending warships to the Black Sea as tensions between Moscow and Ukraine simmer following dueling diplomat expulsions over the weekend.

Moscow deployed two warships through the Bosphorus on Saturday and is sending additional smaller ships from its Caspian and Baltic fleets all aimed at bolstering its presence in the Black Sea, according to Reuters and Russian media reports.

The movements come on top of Russia’s massive troop build-up along its border with Ukraine in recent weeks, prompting fears of a possible invasion. Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014, and skirmishes have continued at a low level along the border ever since.

Western allies have rallied behind Ukraine over Moscow’s military aggression, but have stopped short of committing to additional military aid or sanctions.

For its part, the U.K. is planning to deploy vessels to the region next month in an effort to underscore support for Kyiv, according to The Sunday Times. And last week, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stood firmlywith Ukraine, without indicating what steps they might take to counteract Russia’s behavior.

U.S. President Joe Biden did drop plans to send two warships into the Black Sea following protests from Russia.

In the latest flare-up between Moscow and Kyiv over the weekend, Russia’s security services on Saturday accused a Ukrainian diplomat of trying to access classified local law enforcement databases in Saint Petersburg, prompting authorities to expel the envoy.

Ukraine promptly dismissed the claims.

“We absolutely reject the accusations made against the consular officer,” a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in an emailed statement, adding the move shows Russia is choosing a “line of hostility.”

In response, a senior diplomat from Russia’s embassy in Kyiv has been given 72 hours from Monday to leave the country, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been trying to marshal international backing as he navigates the potential crisis. In Paris on Friday, Zelenskiy called for fresh four-way talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in the so-called Normandy format to discuss the situation. Diplomatic advisers from the four countries are set to meet on Monday.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.


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