On July 1, Russia’s Sputnik state news outlet ran a story on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s comments about Sea Breeze 2021, NATO’s naval exercises in the Black Sea that will involve 32 countries, including non-NATO members like Ukraine, Israel and Pakistan.
Sputnik quoted ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying:
"The Black Sea area is consistently being turned by Washington and its allies from the area of cooperation that had been established there, into a zone of military confrontation. This is done deliberately so that another region of the world under the lead of the United States would become unstable.”
That is false.
A glance at a map of the Black Sea shows what's wrong with Zakharova's assertions.
Six countries border the Black Sea, and three of them, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, are NATO member states. Two of the six, Ukraine and Georgia, have friendly relations with NATO.
That leaves Russia, which expanded its Black Sea presence in 2014 when it illegally occupied Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Russia has since increasingly militarized Crimea and claimed territorial waters around it.
Russia’s territorial claims, largely unrecognized by the international community, have led to incidents like the one that occurred on June 23, when Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender had attempted to violate what it claims are Russian territorial waters near Crimea.
What actually happened is that the Defender was shadowed by Russian coast guard vessels and buzzed by Russian military aircraft as it was traveling from Ukraine’s port of Odessa to Georgia on the eastern Black Sea. Despite the harassment, the British ship did not alter its course.
Around the same time, the Dutch naval vessel HNLMS Evertsen reported that Russian military jets buzzed it southeast of Crimea for several hours and unsuccessfully attempted to use electronic warfare systems to disrupt the destroyer’s radar.
Russia has taken such actions against foreign ships since its occupation of Crimea, the first forced annexation of territory in Europe since the Second World War. In one of the earliest incidents, a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber maneuvered aggressively near the USS Donald Cook, a U.S. Navy destroyer.