The accusation comes days after Moscow announced its intention to close five vast zones in the Black Sea. Russia also threatened peace in the region with an announcement to send 100 military aircraft to the disputed Crimean peninsula for live-fire drills next week. The Kremlin’s alleged move is just the latest move from President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea, who is seemingly using it for shows of military strength and to disrupt NATO allies in the region.
Commodore Josee Kurtz, who commands NATO’s task force in the area, claimed that Russian ships intentionally pressured her flagship HMCS Halifax during live drills.
She also alleged that military aircraft swooped dangerously low to the sea.
Ms Kurtz, who is both the first woman to command a Canadian warship and be named as the commodore of a NATO task force, said: “They generally made their presence obvious.
“They were willing to test our resolve in passing closer to us.”
The disruptions allegedly occurred when NATO was carrying out drills off the coasts of Ukraine and Bulgaria last month.
She confirmed that 8,000 square kilometres were cut off for Russian drills while HMCS Halifax was in the Black Sea – and that Russian ships got too close for comfort.
Mr Kurtz added: “I am aware of some figures that were given in terms of what the Russian Federation has designated as an exercise area for their purpose.
“There were some areas of international waters that had been designated as closed, or active exercise areas, for Russian Federation purposes while we were there.
“But of course, we’re monitoring.”
Ms Kurtz was also asked about a report from Express.co.uk that Russia was intending to close off a significant portion of the Black Sea and disrupt shipping lanes in the process.
While she could not comment on those reports, she noted that NATO officials were keeping a close eye on the region in case of heightened tensions.
At the time, the Ukrainian navy claimed that a deadly Russian missile destroyer – known as the Smetlivy – crept into an area designated for NATO use on July 10.
The Russian defence ministry vehemently denied this.
17 days later, a US Navy patrol plane was intercepted by Putin’s air force.
The low-level clashes have meant the US air force has relocated an important squadron of drones from Poland to Romania.
Tensions initially grew in the Black Sea over the weekend when Ukraine seized a Russian oil tanker on Sunday – an action that was formally approved by a Ukrainian court yesterday.
Chief Military Prosecutor Anatoliy Matios said: “The court seized the said vessel.
“We did it legally.”
The Black Sea is important to Russia for a number of reasons.
Primarily, a new export gas pipeline called Turk Stream – which will flow under the Black Sea and stretch from Russia to Turkey – is set to be operational by the end of the year.
The 900km duct is the latest symbol of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara, much to Washington’s dismay.
On a diplomatic level, the disruption and disturbance of NATO allies who share a coast with the Black Sea such as Bulgaria and Romania could prove useful in Moscow’s ongoing clash with Washington.