The United States and Romanian navies practiced storming the beaches of the Black Sea, a relatively rare example of practicing an attack in the region that Russia considers its own and where it increasingly feels under siege.
The USS Carter Hall, an amphibious dock landing ship, exited the Black Sea on March 22 after taking part in the exercises, Spring Storm 2017. U.S. or NATO exercises in the Black Sea have become fairly dog-bites-man news -- and NATO has promised to conduct them even more frequently -- but these are novel in that they are practicing an explicitly offensive scenario.
The U.S. Navy didn't say much about the goals of the exercises, except that they were " to enhance tactical unit and staff interoperability between Romanian and U.S. naval forces." But images and video of the exercise depicted U.S. Marines and Romanian troops storming the beach with amphibious armored vehicles and hovercraft known as LCACs, Landing Craft Air Cushion. They were accompanied by air support.
"We're going to conduct an assault from ship to shore and attack their position," explained one unidentified Marine in the video.
Russia has been relatively quiet officially about these particular exercises, particularly considering their potentially provocative scenario. "Of course we're following them and we're ready for any developments," one anonymous source in Russia's Black Sea Fleet told Pravda.
This appears to be the Carter Hall's first time in the Black Sea, but the second time the U.S. has practiced this sort of amphibious landing in the Black Sea: last summer, it did something similar with Ukraine. "So it turns out that they are figuring out how to best storm the Russian peninsula," wrote one Russian naval commentator. Previous exercises, he noted, were "covered by the semantic fig leaves of 'anti-piracy', 'earthquake relief', and so on. Now, the masks have been thrown off."
The mention of the "Russian peninsula" refers of course to Crimea, Russia's 2014 annexation of which set off this whole tit-for-tat escalation in the Black Sea. So are the Marines really practicing to storm the beaches of Crimea? It doesn't seem likely, but it's also not a scenario that seems applicable to many other situations in the Black Sea.
As it happens, Russian paratroopers started their own amphibious assault exercises in Crimea on March 20. One of the aims of the simulated mission was to "prevent the landing of an enemy amphibious assault group."