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By Tsvetelia Tsolova
ABOARD THE USS TRUXTUN, Black Sea, March 19 A
U.S. guided-missile destroyer carried out another round of navy
drills in the Black Sea on Wednesday, the latest display of
American military power just a few hundred miles away from
The USS Truxtun, a warship capable of carrying 96 missiles
and torpedoes and equipped with a special radar system,
performed exercises in calm waters with fellow NATO members
Romania and Bulgaria, following a similar round last week.
U.S. navy officials said last week's exercises were planned
well before the current standoff between the West and Moscow
over Russian troops occupying Crimea - the worst East-West
crisis since the end of the Cold War.
But they have coincided with U.S. and Polish fighter jets
carrying out war games in Poland, and NATO reconnaissance
flights over Eastern Europe, and send a message of reassurance
to other NATO members nervous about Russia's intentions in its
"There are many reasons for exercises with allies. It allows
us an opportunity to assure our NATO allies that we support
them," said Lieutenant Shawn Eklund, a spokesman for U.S. naval
forces in Europe, adding that the navy planned more.
"I cannot speak for the crew, but they train for the worst
case. God forbid anything happens in this area. We are prepared,
we work with our partners, with our NATO allies," he told
He said the drills helped build effective cooperation
between allies and demonstrated the U.S. commitment to NATO.
"Hopefully that will serve to deter those who want to
destabilise the region," Eklund said, adding that Wednesday's
exercises were "recently planned" as a follow-up to those
carried out last week.
Crimea voted in a Soviet-style referendum last weekend to
leave Ukraine and join Russia, a vote that was condemned by the
West and prompted Washington and Brussels to slap targeted
sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes and travel bans.
In the latest chapter of the crisis, Russian troops backed
by volunteers stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters in the
Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday, prompting a warning
from Washington that Russia was on a "dark path" to isolation.
Drills aboard the Truxtun on Wednesday included Romanian
Special Forces rappelling from a helicopter onto the ship, and
communications exercises in which the allies shared information
about their respective radar systems.
"It is a great opportunity to demonstrate our support... and
also really interact with our allies," said 29-year-old
Lieutenant Catherine Reppert, a tactical action officer, who sat
in the combat control room next to a radar screen.
The naval exercises carried echoes of the response during
another standoff between the West and Moscow in 2008, when
Russian troops poured into Georgia to support the breakaway
regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. At that time, NATO sent
ships to the Black Sea on what it called pre-planned exercises,
sparking Russian accusations of a naval build up.
The Truxtun was named after an American naval hero and
featured last year in a Hollywood film.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)