USS Donald Cook returning to Black Sea

The USS Donald Cook en route to the Black Sea on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019.


By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 19, 2019

The USS Donald Cook transited the Dardanelles Strait on Tuesday en route to its second Black Sea operation in a month as Russia again shadows the ship amid growing tensions between Moscow and the West.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer made a port stop last month in Batumi, Georgia, and conducted an exercise with two of that country’s coast guard vessels while the Russian navy watched. The destroyer’s last visit to the Black Sea was in late January.

Moscow’s state news agency, Tass, reported Tuesday that the Russian Black Sea Fleet was “continuously tracking” the Donald Cook’s movements.

This is the third time this year the Navy has sent a warship to the Black Sea following Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and arrest of 24 sailors in late November at the Kerch Strait. The U.S. and its allies have condemned the incident.

Navy officials say the ship will augment maritime security, help to ensure regional stability and boost the readiness and capability of its Black Sea partners through a multi-national exercise.

These partners typically include Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia and Turkey.

“Each visit here affords us the unique opportunity to work with our regional maritime partners,” Cmdr. Matthew Powel, commanding officer of the Donald Cook, said in a statement.

Moscow would view any U.S. warship in the region for any length of time as a provocation, said Emily Ferris, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

“Given the recent incident in the Kerch Strait, the U.S. move to send a warship to the Black Sea will undoubtedly exacerbate tensions with Russia,” she said.

Tensions have simmered in the region since Russia seized Crimea in 2014, and escalated last year when Russia captured the three Ukrainian vessels.

Russia claims the vessels trespassed in its territorial waters, while Ukraine says they were in international waters. Most of the world backs Ukraine.

Ukraine contends Russia’s naval patrols and its Crimean road bridge — built deliberately low — impede Ukrainian merchant ships trying to reach vital ports.

Russia is trying to squeeze Ukraine economically to punish it for aligning with NATO, Ferris said, adding that Russia also doesn’t want to make Ukraine too unstable.

“Maintaining a delicate level of instability fuels Russia’s narrative that Ukraine’s political alignment with the West and its structure have not paid off,” Ferris said.

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook transits the Dardanelles Strait on Tuesday en route to its second Black Sea on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019.