Ukraine’s new defense minister says the country will speed construction of a naval base at the port of Berdyansk amid tense relations with Russia in the unstable region.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on November 13 following a visit to Berdyansk that the move is designed to prevent what Ukraine calls attempts by Moscow to take control of the crucial Sea of Azov.
The sea borders along the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia illegally seized from Ukraine in 2014.
“Strengthening our capabilities in this direction and the development of the navy in general is one of the priorities,” said Reznikov, who toured the region along with Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff General Valery Zaluzhny.
"The corresponding instructions will be given to accelerate the construction of the naval base," Reznikov said in statement released by the Defense Ministry.
The comments come as Kyiv and Western powers, including the United States, raised alarm bells over Russian activities near Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists control swaths of territory in an ongoing seven-year conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia against making another "serious mistake" on Ukraine as Washington sought information about an alleged Russian troop movement near the border that the Pentagon called "unusual in its size and scope."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Western suggestions Moscow might be considering offensive military action and accused Washington of aggressive moves in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States have held major military drills in recent months.
Ukraine in 2018 said it planned to build a naval base in Berdyansk after losing its military bases on the Crimean Peninsula when Moscow seized the territory.
The creation of the base "will create conditions for repelling Russian aggression in that region," the Ukrainian government said at the time.
Reznikov said security risks had been heightened and threats to shipping had emerged because of Russian actions in the Azov and Black Seas.
"Following the occupation of Crimea and parts of [eastern Ukraine], Russia is trying to de facto occupy the Sea of Azov as well," Reznikov said.
Russia has denied that it wants to take control of the Sea of Azov, but it did not comment on Reznikov comments.
With reporting by Reuters and Unian