The View From A Russian Frigate In Crimea : Parallels Russia recently introduced a new warship in the Black Sea, an area of heightened tension since Russia's seizure of Crimea two years ago. NPR's Corey Flintoff was invited on board.

The View From A Russian Frigate In Crimea

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The U.S. and Ukraine are staging naval exercises in the Black Sea not far from the Crimean peninsula, which Russia took back from Ukraine two years ago. For its part, Russia is building up its own naval forces in the Black Sea, adding powerful new warships. NPR's Corey Flintoff visited one of those vessels in Crimea.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The Crimean city of Sevastopol has been the home port of the Black Sea fleet since 1783, when the naval force was created under Empress Catherine the Great. The governor of the city, Sergei Menyailo, is a former commander of the fleet. He's deeply suspicious of any NATO presence in the region. Menyailo acknowledges that Russia has been adding to its Black Sea fleet, but he says that buildup is not part of an arms race.

SERGEI MENYAILO: (Through interpreter) Aren't they getting new ships in neighboring countries, in the U.S. and in Turkey? Why don't you call that an arms race? Wait, so you can do this but we can't?

FLINTOFF: Menyailo insists that Russia is not threatening anybody, although he's sitting on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia took from Ukraine more than two years ago. One of the fleet's newest acquisitions is the frigate Admiral Grigorovich, which arrived at its base in Sevastopol in March of this year. The only way to get aboard her was as part of a trip for foreign reporters organized by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We took a launch down the channel to where the warship was tied up. The Admiral Grigorovich is a sleek 400-foot vessel that cruises at around 35 miles per hour. Most of its armament is hidden behind the ship's streamlined exterior.

ANATOLY VELICHKO: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: Captain Anatoly Velichko gave us a tour of the ship.

VELICHKO: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: He says the ship's main warfare mission is to fight other ships at sea and to destroy any coastal installations an enemy might have.

VELICHKO: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: Since the vessel is highly automated and has all the latest weaponry, it requires a crew of only about 200.

VELICHKO: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: Velichko shows the vessel's torpedo tubes and the launcher for its guided missiles. In terms of armament, he says, it's the equal to any ship of its size in the world. The frigate's interior is a maze of machinery and electronics, but we aren't allowed to see much of that. Not everyone agrees that the new Russian ship is the state of the art. Eric Wertheim is an expert on combat ships at the U.S. Naval Institute. He says the Admiral Grigorovich represents a significant improvement for the Black Sea fleet. But...

ERIC WERTHEIM: The change is not necessarily that they are incredibly capable warships now, although they are modern and better than what was there before, but just the simple fact that the - compared to what was there before was really in bad condition and decades old.

FLINTOFF: Wertheim says all the countries in the region, including the NATO members, need to be aware that Russia has new capabilities that will play an important role in the Black Sea. Meanwhile, the sailors aboard the frigate say they're ready for whatever comes their way. I asked 25-year-old Anton Kruglov if he had any message for his American counterparts.

ANTON KRUGLOV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "Seven feet under the keel to all sailors," he says, meaning may you always have deep water and safe sailing. I asked if he expected to meet American sailors in the Black Sea. No, he said. I think we'll meet somewhere farther out in the ocean. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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