US Navy destroyer to conduct more Black Sea drills: commander

US Navy destroyer to conduct more Black Sea drills: commander
U.S. Navy officers stand on the deck of the US Navy destroyer "USS Truxtun" in the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna on March 15, 2014. The USS Truxtun departed the Greek port of Souda Bay on March 5 to carry out joint training with Romanian and Bulgarian forces, the US Navy said in a statement.

SOFIA - A US Navy guided-missile destroyer will remain in the Black Sea to conduct more exercises with allied ships, its commander said on Saturday, the eve of a breakaway vote in Crimea.

The USS Truxtun this week conducted joint exercises with Romanian and Bulgarian naval forces just a few hundred kilometres (miles) away from the disputed Crimea peninsula.

"I cannot comment on our future operations but we will take the opportunity to do some routine exercises with our allies in the region," said Commander Andrew Biehn.

Speaking to reporters aboard the 300-crew ship at the Black Sea port of Varna, Biehn refused to provide details about the drills or the next port of dock of the destroyer, which will leave Varna on Sunday.

The drills were routine and had been "planned a long time before the start of the Crimean crisis." They did not include live firing, he said.

The move comes just days after the Pentagon sought to reassure anxious allies in Central and Eastern Europe over Russia's actions in Ukraine, announcing plans to send more F-15 fighter jets to patrol the skies over Baltic states and stepping up aviation training in Poland.

Pro-Russian forces have taken de facto control of the Crimean peninsula, where a controversial referendum on breaking away from Ukraine to join Russia will be held on Sunday.

The only other US naval ship deployed in the Black Sea is the USS Taylor, a frigate undergoing repairs at the Turkish port of Samsun after having run aground last month.

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