The cruiser Vella Gulf is participating in a multinational exercise in the Black Sea, where the Russian navy is holding separate large-scale war games. Gunner's Mate Seaman Frank Bassett manned a machine gun in mid-June as the cruiser approached the Bosphorus Strait. (MCSN Edward Guttierrez III / Navy)
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Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Adam Wendt on June 28 signals to the pilot of an SH-60B helicopter that he is cleared to land on the flight deck of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72). (MC3 Edward Guttierrez III / Navy)
It’s the tale of the two maritime exercises: In the Black Sea, the U.S. and its allies are starting up multinational training while Russian warships separately maneuver in a large-scale war game.
The cruiser Vella Gulf entered the Black Sea on Monday and is meeting up with Bulgarian, Italian, Greek and Turkish forces there for the Bulgarian-led annual exercise dubbed Breeze. A 6th Fleet news release said the cruiser was participating to reassure allies of the U.S. commitment to stability in the area.
“Vella Gulf's presence in the Black Sea represents efforts by the United States to reaffirm its commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners, while working toward mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the region,” the release said.
The Crimea-based Black Sea fleet, which has been at the center of instability in the region, launched 20 ships and SU-24 fighters to participate in war games in the Black Sea, Russian state media reported July 4. Russia Times reported that the ships launched five anti-ship cruise missiles during the exercise, an included marines and coastal defense systems.
The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the scheduling of the Russian exercises were intended to be simultaneous to the Breeze exercise.
This is the Vella Gulf’s second trip into the Black Sea, and it follows the destroyers Donald Cook and Truxtun, as well as the frigate Taylor. The cruiser last entered the Black Sea in May.
Pravda, another Russian state media outlet, reported Monday that an Italian frigate and a minesweeper, as well as a Greek corvette and Turkish minesweeper, have all entered the Black Sea.
The Navy’s top officer, Adm. Jon Greenert, said in May that the Russian fleet has shadowed U.S. ships in the area but that the Russian forces have been professional.
Greenert said that interactions between the two navies have generally adhered to Cold War-era doctrines for encounters between the two forces. The exception: An April incident when a Russian fighter made several low-altitude flybys over the Donald Cook.