NATO Says Black Sea Presence Routine, Denies Buildup

BRUSSELS -- NATO dismissed Russian suggestions it was reinforcing its presence in the Black Sea on Thursday, insisting that a group of warships was there on a long-planned routine exercise.

NATO announced last week that a group of one Spanish, one German and one Polish ship had entered the Black Sea and were subsequently joined by a U.S. frigate for a three-week schedule of port visits and exercises.

Amid mounting tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow's intervention in the South Ossetia region, the deputy chief of the Russia's General Staff said Wednesday that the Navy was monitoring what he called a NATO "buildup."

"There is certainly no NATO buildup in the Black Sea," Commander Kevan McHale at NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe said.

The alliance said last week that the warship deployment had been planned over a year ago and would conduct port visits in Romania and Bulgaria and carry out exercises with their navies.

McHale said the only other allied presence that NATO authorities knew about were two U.S. ships involved in aid shipments to Georgia and ships belonging to the three NATO nations bordering the sea -- Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey.