The Ukrainian naval patrol boat “Kremenchuk” churns out into the gun-grey waters of the Sea of Azov, one mounted machine gun pointing aft, another pointing fore into the drizzle.
Commander Ivan Ovchar explains his ship’s mission: “To defend and maintain the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
The threat, the officer and many of Ukraine’s allies believe, comes from Russia.
For weeks, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been expressing growing concern about Moscow’s military activity on the Ukrainian border.
“We don’t know what President [Vladimir] Putin’s intentions are, but we do know what’s happened in the past,” Blinken said Saturday during a trip to Senegal, referring to Russian military incursions, acknowledged or not, into neighboring countries.
“We do know the playbook of trying to cite some illusory provocation from Ukraine or any other country and then using that as an excuse to do what Russia’s planning to do all along.”
With tensions high in the region, CNN joined the Ukrainian navy vessel departing from Berdyansk on Ukraine’s Azov coastline. Usually, Commander Ovchar’s crew comes across six or seven Russian coast guard patrol boats, he says, but on this mission, there were none.
The sea he’s patrolling borders Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow following a controversial referendum in 2014, in violation of international law.
Ukraine’s new Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, announced November 13 that the pace of building a new naval port in Berdyansk was to be increased.
On Tuesday, CNN gained exclusive access to the “Sehid” or “East” base under construction.
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