Seven NATO countries initiated a series of naval rapid reaction force exercises in the Black Sea, as Russia vastly increases its #Military presence on the annexed Crimean peninsula. Crimea has been a focal point of contention between Russia and the West since it was seized by Russia a year ago. The naval drills involved the NATO states Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, US, Canada, Germany and Italy. American flagship the USS Vicksburg, a guided missile cruiser, took part in a series of exercises which involved simulated naval maneuvers and additional warfare exercises. The action comes a week after Russia's defense ministry began its own military drills in Crimea and nearby regions amid rising tensions
Russia announced it had taken control of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in March 2014, prompting widespread international condemnation. Since the annexation, the UN General Assembly released a non-binding resolution affirming the territorial integrity of Ukraine and their administration of Crimea. Fighting in the eastern Ukraine region known as the Donbass has persisted, alarming many neighboring countries afraid of Russian military encroachment. Pro-Russian separatists directly supported by Russia have continuously fought the Ukrainian army since April 2014, and several thousand have already perished in the conflict. Russia denies it is directly involved, but recently admitted to staging covert operations ahead of the Crimean takeover.