MOSCOW • Two Russian warships transited the Bosphorus en route to the Black Sea yesterday and 15 smaller vessels completed a transfer to the sea, as Moscow beefs up its naval presence at a time of tense relations with the West and Ukraine.
The reinforcement coincides with a huge build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, something Moscow calls a temporary defensive exercise, and follows an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Russia has also temporarily restricted the movement of foreign warships "and other state ships" near Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, a move condemned by both Kiev and Washington.
Two Russian Ropucha-class landing ships from Russia's Northern Fleet, capable of carrying tanks and of delivering armour and troops during coastal assaults, transited the Bosphorus yesterday, a Reuters reporter in Istanbul saw.
More Russian naval reinforcements - in the form of two more landing ships, this time from Russia's Baltic Fleet - are expected to imminently transit the Bosphorus.
The RIA news agency yesterday also reported that 15 smaller vessels from Russia's Caspian Flotilla have completed their transfer to the Black Sea as part of an exercise.
In a further sign of heightened tensions in the region, a ship carrying logistics trucks and equipment for Nato forces in Romania transited the Bosphorus on Friday evening.
In St Petersburg, Russia's FSB security service briefly detained a Ukrainian diplomat, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
The Interfax news agency earlier cited the FSB as saying Mr Oleksandr Sosoniuk was taken into custody when he tried to obtain classified information from Russian law enforcement databases during a meeting with a Russian citizen.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Mr Sosoniuk had been advised to leave Russian territory within 72 hours, starting from tomorrow.
"The Ukrainian side will soon decide how to respond to this provocation, taking into account current practice," Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said of Mr Sosoniuk's detention.