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The USNS Laramie enters the Black Sea, Jan. 24, 2021. The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in the Black Sea as of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.
The USNS Laramie enters the Black Sea, Jan. 24, 2021. The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in the Black Sea as of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (Yoruk Isik)
The USNS Laramie enters the Black Sea, Jan. 24, 2021. The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in the Black Sea as of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.
The USNS Laramie enters the Black Sea, Jan. 24, 2021. The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in the Black Sea as of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (Yoruk Isik)
The USS Donald Cook enters the Black Sea at night, Jan. 23, 2021. The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in  the Black Sea as of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.
The USS Donald Cook enters the Black Sea at night, Jan. 23, 2021. The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in the Black Sea as of Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (Yoruk Isik)
The USS Porter transits the Bosphorus Jan. 28, 2021, en route to the Black Sea, where it joins the USS Donald Cook and the USNS Laramie.
The USS Porter transits the Bosphorus Jan. 28, 2021, en route to the Black Sea, where it joins the USS Donald Cook and the USNS Laramie. (Twitter/U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Navy has three warships operating in the Black Sea, stepping up its presence in the region after a drop in overall NATO maritime activity there last year.

The destroyer USS Porter began its transit into the sea Thursday in support of NATO efforts, joining two other Navy vessels conducting operations in the strategic waterway, the Naples, Italy-based 6th Fleet said.

On Sunday, the replenishment oiler USNS Laramie entered the Black Sea to refuel the USS Donald Cook, enabling the destroyer to continue operations without pulling into port, the Navy said.

“Presence matters most when it is persistent, and refueling at sea makes that reality,” Capt. Joseph Gagliano, commander of Task Force 65, which has operational control of ships in Europe, said in a statement.

For the past couple of years, NATO has said it wants a robust military presence in the Black Sea region, which includes the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by force by Russia in 2014. But in 2020, the number of days key allies operated there declined.

The U.S. Navy spent 82 days in the Black Sea, down 19 days from the previous year, Luke Coffey, an expert on NATO activities and security analyst with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said in a recent Twitter post.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who led the Army in Europe until 2018, said more allies should step up to help the U.S. in the region.

“We clearly have to increase the priority of the Black Sea,” said Hodges, who is now the Pershing chair of strategic studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis, in reply to Coffey’s tweet. “US Navy has too many (requirements) and not enough resources. President Biden will expect Allies to do more.”

Russia has taken note of the recent push into the Black Sea. On Thursday, Russian state media reported that a mobile coastal defense anti-ship system was activated in Crimea for drills to coincide with the USS Donald Cook’s visit.

vandiver.john@stripes.com Twitter: @john_vandiver

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