Background: The Black Sea’s strategic importance as a transportation hub makes it a point of contention between Russia and NATO, as well as nearby countries such as Romania, Ukraine, Georgia and Turkey that have variously tried to exert their influence over it throughout history. After Russia annexed Crimea, it became a major player in the waters once again. NATO has since repeatedly said it will strengthen its military presence there. What Happened: NATO added more warships to the Black Sea at the end of January – first with the Donald Cook, a U.S. destroyer, and then with the USS Porter. On Feb. 10, the U.S. Sixth Fleet announced that the ships participated in joint exercises with Turkish naval vessels and Turkish F-16s aimed at detecting enemy submarines, after which they left. Bottom Line: The exercises were small and fairly routine, but usually they are announced ahead of time. These weren’t revealed until the last minute. Most likely, they were conducted so that Turkey could prove its commitment to NATO, even as it continues to bicker with Washington over its acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems. Either way, Russia can’t be happy about the drills.