The U.S. guided missile frigate Taylor was on patrol in the Black Sea Wednesday, giving NATO a brief three-ship presence in waters close to Russia and Ukraine.
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class Taylor was in the Black Sea to replace the Aegis missile defense destroyer Donald Cook, which was returning to the Mediterranean.
The French signals intelligence ship Dupuy de Lome was also in the Black Sea as part of NATO's plan to deploy more air and naval assets during the Ukraine crisis.
Russia's official media said the French frigate Dupleix was expected to enter the Black Sea this weekend as part of a NATO plan to keep three warships in the Black Sea indefinitely following Moscow's annexation of Crimea.
A Sixth Fleet statement said that the Taylor's mission was "to reassure NATO allies of the U.S. Navy's commitment to strengthen and improve interoperability while working toward mutual goals in the region."
The Taylor was in the Black Sea for the second time in two months. The frigate made port visits and joined the Romanian and Bulgarian navies in exercises from February 5 to March 9 in what Russia charged was a violation of a maritime treaty limiting stays in the Black Sea to 21 days.
The Russian ITAR-Tass news agency, citing diplomatic and military sources, suggested that the Russian navy was keeping close track of the movements of the NATO ships.
ITAR-Tass said the Cook had operated in western areas of the Black Sea while the Dupuy de Lome, desgined to gather signals and communications intelligence, was in central areas of the Black Sea.
On April 12, a Russian Su-24 Fencer warplane made several low-altitude passes near the Cook in what Pentagon officials called an "unprofessional and provocative" act.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.