LIMASSOL, Cyprus — A U.S. Navy commander said Wednesday there is “no significant change” in the conduct of Russian aircraft and warships toward Western naval and air assets in the eastern Mediterranean as Moscow’s war in Ukraine grinds on.
Cmdr. Peter C. Flynn said that Russian warplanes and naval vessels have been conducting themselves professionally, like other military forces in the region, and there’s been no indication of any heightened aggression or hostility.
“We obviously study what is going on in theater and you know that certainly plays a role in what we do and what we prepare for, but not a significant change” in the attitude of Russian forces, Flynn told The Associated Press aboard the USS Arleigh Burke.
The destroyer, one of the United States’ most capable warships, is docked at Cyprus’ main Limassol port.
Russia has a naval base in Tartus, Syria, the only such facility that Moscow has outside the former Soviet Union. In 2017, Moscow struck a deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad to extend its lease on Tartus for 49 years and keep up to 11 warships there, including nuclear-powered ones.
Tartus is 180 kilometers (112 miles) from Cyprus’ eastern coastline.
F-35 jets from the U.K.’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, operating off Cyprus in June 2021 had stirred the interest of Russian warplanes, which tried to keep tabs on the cutting-edge warplanes.
The Arleigh Burke is three months into a 4½-month patrol mission in the region. It docked in Cyprus after operating in the Red Sea and passing through the Suez Canal. Since February, the destroyer has also operated above the Arctic Circle, the Baltic and North Seas and the eastern Atlantic.
“The Eastern Mediterranean is so important for maritime security and the history here is just so much,” Flynn said.
The Arleigh Burke was the last U.S. Navy ship to sail in the Black Sea prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“The Arleigh Burke has the most capable, offensive and defensive systems of any other U.S. ship,” Flynn said. “So if we can’t do it, nobody else can.”
The ship is equipped with an array of missiles that can engage aircraft, submarines, other surface ships and even ballistic missiles in outer space.
Flynn said the destroyer has recently conducted joint maneuvers with Saudi and Egyptian naval vessels. Apart from projecting U.S. power, the ship aims to buttress ties with friendly nations, he said.
By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated Press