Ukraine gets two US patrol boats amid tension with Russia

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Two patrol boats sent by the United States to strengthen the Ukrainian navy arrived Tuesday at the southern port of Odessa amid Western fears that Russia might be plotting to invade its neighbor.

Part of Washington’s security aid package, the two Island-class patrol boats arrived at the Black Sea port aboard a cargo ship, an AFP photographer saw.

Along with two other vessels of the same type received by Ukraine in 2019, the boats will ensure “the naval security” of Ukraine in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the defense ministry said in a statement.

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The Black Sea is a sensitive region for Russia, which controls the Crimean peninsula after annexing it from Ukraine in 2014.

Since then, Kiev has fought a conflict with pro-Russia separatists in the east of the country which has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

Western countries have this month raised alarm over reported Russian military activity near Ukraine, with the US saying it has “real concerns” over a new troop build-up on the border.

Moscow has dismissed growing Western claims that Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin was concerned that Ukraine might be getting ready for an offensive in the east. Kiev has denied the claims.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said that any US moves to send more hardware and military advisers to Ukraine would only raise tensions further.

The United States has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine’s forces since the conflict with separatists broke out in 2014.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba praised Washington’s military assistance, saying the United States had been Kiev’s “No. 1 security partner” since 2014.

Speaking in televised remarks Monday evening, he said that the ex-Soviet country had over the past weeks received arms and hardware that are part of a new $60 million package announced by US President Joe Biden earlier this year.

“These are very concrete things that are strengthening our defense capability,” Kuleba said.

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of “escalating” the Ukraine conflict by holding drills in the Black Sea.

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