Putin Orders Major Unplanned Military Exercises in Black Sea

President Vladimir Putin ordered large-scale unplanned exercises in the Black Sea involving 36 warships and almost 7,000 personnel, two months after Russia held its biggest naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean in more than two decades.

Putin issued the order today at 4 a.m. Moscow time on his way back from Durban, South Africa, where he attended a summit of the BRICS emerging-market nations, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on a conference call. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu received the order in a sealed envelope, Peskov said. NATO wasn’t notified, an official at the military alliance said.

No advance international notification is required for exercises with less than 7,000 personnel, Peskov said. The maneuvers, which will also involve air force, paratroopers, marines and intelligence units, are “in accordance with international laws,” he said.

Russia has used its Black Sea Fleet, based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, to deploy warships near the shores of Syria, its Soviet-era ally where it maintains a naval resupply base at the Mediterranean port of Tartus. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is battling an insurgency in its third year.

Putin, who is currently in Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi, may visit the maneuvers, Peskov said, declining to elaborate.

Growing Tensions

Putin’s decision to order the exercises reflects growing tensions with the U.S. and its European allies over Syria and other areas of disagreement, Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based defense analyst, said by phone.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is committed to improving trust and transparency, including as regards to military exercises, and looks forward to similar steps from Russia, the NATO official said.

Russia plans to form a permanently deployed naval squadron in the Mediterranean, Shoigu said this month. The force will be modeled after the Soviet Union’s permanently forward-deployed Mediterranean squadron and will be created with about 10 warships drawn from the Black Sea Fleet, state news service RIA Novosti reported March 11, citing an unidentified military official.