Russian landing boats were seen on the Volga-Don Canal and posted on social media on Monday ahead of military exercises in the Black Sea.
Russia’s defense ministry said on April 8 that it was moving more than 10 navy vessels, including landing boats and artillery warships, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea to take part in drills.
The canal connects the Volga River and the Don River at their closest points. It’s the most direct navigation link between the Caspian Sea and the Azov Sea and then on to the Black Sea.
The United States also said it was sending two warships from the Caspian Sea Flotilla to the Black Sea this week.
The deployment of Russian boats is ostensibly part of a larger series of readiness drills, but comes amid a Russian military buildup near the country’s borders with Ukraine, the Drive reported.
Russia, which has boosted its military forces near Ukraine, has accused NATO powers that do not have a coastline in the region of increasing naval activity. The only NATO countries on the Black Sea are Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.
Western nations and Ukraine have voiced concern over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine. Moscow has said its forces will stay put as long as it sees fit and that they pose no threat.
Washington says Russia has amassed more troops on Ukraine’s eastern border than at any time since 2014 when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine.
Violence has flared between Ukrainian troops and the separatists. Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a telephone conversation with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, accused Ukraine last Friday of „dangerous provocative actions” in the Donbass region
Last Tuesday, Russia said it was beginning a planned combat readiness inspection of its forces that would involve more than 4,000 drills this month.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.