US missile cruiser to enter Black Sea amid NATO drills in Eastern Europe – military source

by The Daily Lede

US missile cruiser to enter Black Sea amid NATO drills in Eastern Europe – military source

The American missile cruiser Vella Gulf is expected to arrive in the Black Sea on May 23, a military source told the Russian news agency. It comes as part of a wider buildup of NATO forces close to Russian borders in the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.

The Aegis guided missile cruiser will join two other NATO ships in the Black Sea in time for the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, a military-diplomatic source told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency on Monday

“It is expected that Vella Gulf will pass through the Black Sea straits on May 23. According to available data, the ship will be performing the tasks of US Navy command in the eastern part of the Black Sea,” the source said.

The ship itself is 172 meters long and 16 meters wide and can carry two multipurpose helicopters. It is also equipped with an Aegis air and ballistic missile defensive system, Tomahawk cruise missiles, antisubmarine missiles, as well as Standard-2 and Standard-3 surface-to-air missiles.

Vella Gulf will have to leave the Black Sea no later than June 13 as, according to the Montreux Convention, non-riparian, military vessels are only allowed to stay in the region for 21 days. It will replace US warship USS Donald Cook which left the Black Sea at the end of April.

The Pentagon claimed that during the Donald Cook’s deployment it was subject to a number of fly-overs by a Russian Su-24 aircraft. The craft reportedly made 12 low passes over the ship during a period of 90 minutes, prompting a sharp reaction from the US who slammed the move as “provocative.”