Ukraine says Russian naval drills choking off trade

Ukraine says Russian naval drills choking off trade

Ukrainian officials said Russian naval drills off its Black Sea coast are disrupting trade and hurting the economy, even as Russian and Belarusian forces began 10 days of major military exercises close to Ukraine’s northern border.

Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, complained on Twitter that the Russian naval drills have put off-limits large swaths of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, effectively shutting down access to Ukrainian ports in the area.

“We strongly protest Russia‘s decision to block parts of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait under the pretext of naval drills,” Mr. Nikolenko said in a statement released Thursday on Twitter.

“The unprecedentedly large area of exercises essentially disables international navigation in both seas, leading to economic consequences in the region and for Ukrainian ports in particular,” he added. “We are working closely with partners to ensure that such aggressive actions of Russia as part of its hybrid warfare against Ukraine receive an appropriate response.”

Ukraine’s military is holding its own readiness training exercises Thursday in units and commands across the country, officials in Kyiv announced.

The Russian naval drills and the Belarusian exercises have only heightened concerns over the Kremlin’s intentions, adding to a recent build-up of more than 100,000 Russian troops and weaponry on three sides of Ukraine in recent months.

Russian officials deny any plans to invade, but are threatening unspecified consequences if the U.S. and NATO do not agree to demands to block Ukraine’s future members in the military alliance and to pull back Western troops from along Russia‘s border.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in sometimes pointed exchanges with visiting British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Thursday, again defended recent military moves, saying Russia has the right to position its troops on its own territory and that of its allies.

“The demands to remove Russian troops from Russian territory were not changing in any way in response to our arguments,” Mr. Lavrov told a joint press conference in Moscow. “At the very least, this causes regret.”

Russia recently announced a six-day naval navigation warning for the Black Sea and the adjacent Sea of Azov, saying its navy planned missile and gunnery firing exercises starting Sunday.

As with the Belarusian troops’ exercises, the Kremlin says the missile drills follow established norms and will not disrupt commercial traffic.