NATO and Russian Military Presence in Mediterranean Sea at ‘Cold War’ Levels
NATO and Russian Military Presence in Mediterranean Sea at ‘Cold War’ Levels

By Jack Phillips

As the conflict in Ukraine enters its third month, NATO and Russia have built up their naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea to the most significant levels in decades.

That was confirmed in a recent interview with Thibault Lavernhe, regional communication officer of French forces in the Mediterranean, who said that “Ukraine has changed things.”

“The Americans are back. This hasn’t been the case since the Cold War,” he said. “Russia has doubled, if not tripled, its military capacity in the area” in terms of destroyers, submarines, and frigates, Lavernhe continued to say.

Currently, there are around 20 Russian warships positioned around the Mediterranean, Lavernhe told the AFP news agency. Meanwhile, the United States has doubled its naval presence in the region following the start of the Ukraine war, the official said.

“Where there are American forces, the Russians are there too,” Lavernhe said, adding: “Russian ships are positioned to monitor the activity of allied forces.”

NATO operated about three aircraft carrier strike groups in the region before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The United States several weeks ago extended the deployment of the USS Truman aircraft carrier strike group in the eastern portion of the Mediterranean.

A man rides a motorbike past a destroyed Russian tank on a road in the village of Rusaniv, near Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 16, 2022. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

“The role of Truman, with other allies, is to deter Russians from further aggression and to be on constant standby for orders that might be given from our president or from other leaders around the world for the protection of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told reporters last month.

It comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are slated to visit Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Sunday to discuss sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine’s military.

The trip was announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, although the State Department and Pentagon have not issued public comments on the matter.

The United States and NATO allies have shown growing readiness to supply heavier equipment and more advanced weapons systems. The United Kingdom has promised to send military vehicles and said it was considering supplying British tanks to Poland to free up Warsaw’s Russian-designed T-72s for Ukraine.

Russian forces are attempting to storm the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol by land, backed up by aerial and artillery bombardment, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Sunday.

“Russian troops are trying to finish off the defenders of Azovstal and more than 1,000 civilians who are hiding at the plant,” Arestovych wrote on Facebook. He said on Saturday that troops in the steel complex were attempting counterattacks.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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