Russia said it has right to deploy weapons in Crimea, a peninsula in Europe located on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Ukraine previously controlled the Crimean Peninsula, but it was annexed by Russia after the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution as a result of a referendum.
Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the department nuclear non-proliferation and weapons control of the Foreign Ministry of Russia said, “I don’t know if there are nuclear weapons there now. I don’t know about any plans, but in principle Russia can do it.”
“Naturally Russia has the right to put nuclear weapons in any region on its territory if it deems it necessary. We hold that we have such a right, though Kiev has a different opinion on this matter,” added Ulyanov.
His statement regarding Russia’s right to deploy nuclear arms in Crimea came after U.S. Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges noted that there are 29,000 Russian soldiers stationed in Crimea during his remarks in Berlin. Commander Hodges also said that there are 50,000 Russian soldiers deployed on the other side of the peninsula’s border.
Last month, a delegation from United Kingdom to NATO said Russia’s SA-22 surface to missile systems were operating inside Ukraine. Moscow continues to deny that it is providing support to the pro-Russian separatists in the country.
Russia is focused on reinforcing its military in Crimea this year
Russia is focused on reinforcing its military in Crimea this, according to the statement of the country’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov last January.
Gerasimov said, “In 2015, the Defense Ministry’s main efforts will focus on an increase of combat capabilities of the armed forces and increasing the military staff in accordance with military construction plans. Much attention will be given to the groupings in Crimea, Kaliningrad and the Arctic.”
Navy Chief, Admiral Victro Chirkov also announced the plans of the Russian government for a major rearmament of the force including the Black Sea Fleet, which is deployed in Sevastapol, Crimea.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Political observers noted that Russia is becoming increasingly brave in revealing the details of how it grabbed the control of Crimea from Ukraine. Russia’s action is still considered by many international organizations as illegal despite a referendum.
Rossiya One, a state-run television station will be broadcasting a documentary regarding the annexation of Crimea. The trailer of the documentary entitled Crimea: The Road Back Home showed startling revelation from President Vladimir Putin. He revealed that the decision to take Crimea was the result of a regime change when Ukraine ousted pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovich.
The documentary also included how Putin ordered official to start the process of taking control of Crimea starting on the night of February 22 until before the referendum on March 16, last year.
Putin only allowed the referendum on the annexation after an “unofficial poll” showed that majority of the people of Crimea were likely vote in favor of it. Ninety six percent (96%) of the residents of Crimea (majority are ethnic Russians) voted in favor of the annexation.
NATO naval exercises in the Black Sea
The members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) including Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Romania, Turkey and the United States are conducting naval drills in the Black Sea.
Six vessels took part in the joint naval exercises including the USS Vickburg, the guided missile cruiser of the United States.The naval exercise was headed by U.S. Rear Admiral Brad Williamson.
“The training and exercises we will conduct with our Allies in the Black Sea prepares us to undertake any mission NATO might require to meet its obligations for collective defense,” according to Williamson’s statement on the Maritime Command (MARCOM) website.
The naval exercises included simulated anti-air, anti-submarine warfare, simulated small boat attacks and basic ship handling maneuvers, according to a navy spokesman from Bulgaria.
On the other hand, a NATO official explained to Reuters that the alliance “regularly deploys ships to the Black Sea for maritime awareness and training.” The official added that the current navy drills carry an additional message to to allies due to the continued assertiveness of Russia in the region.
Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO previously stated that his country would implement “necessary countermeasure” in the response to the increased presence of the alliance in the Black Sea.
The current navy drills and the assertion of Russia that it has the right to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea suggest that the international relations in the region seemed getting worse.