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Russia sends warships to the Black Sea as diplomatic talks over Ukraine ramp up

The first group of Russian warships passed through the Turkish straits into the Black Sea on Tuesday on their way to waters near Ukraine.

The ships continue the buildup of forces by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has stationed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders in recent weeks.

"Basically, Ukraine is surrounded," said retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He joined Morning Edition to analyze what Putin's naval movements signal the conflict's next turn could be. Listen here.

The three warships are designed for beach landings and can carry heavy tanks. Russia insists the ships are part of a planned naval exercise, but Mullen says that probably isn't true.

"For the Russians to have forces in the Black Sea, ready to go ashore in a key port like Sevastopol, makes a lot of sense if in fact he is going to pull the trigger," Mullen says.

Putin's current movements seem to mirror the steps he took to invade Georgia in 2008 — when he staged a military exercise that turned into an invasion — but it isn't clear whether Putin will do the same with Ukraine, Mullen says.

Russia has a robust history of modern aggression toward its neighbor countries, but Mullen notes what's different now is the international response. President Biden and NATO have said that significant financial consequences will hit Russia if Putin were to invade Ukraine, including potentially canceling the Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, which would cost Russia economic and regional power.

What Putin may ultimately be angling for is a regime change in Ukraine, says Mullen.

World leaders continue to pursue diplomatic meetings to try to calm the crisis.

French President Emanuel Macron spoke one-on-one with Putin during a five-hour meeting Monday. The meeting, although long and much talked about online for its comically large table, hasn't yielded any tangible successes so far, reports NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

Even as NATO warns of severe repercussions and world leaders meet with Putin directly, whether Russia will invade is unknown.

"I don't think anybody really knows whether he's going to go in, except Putin himself," Mullen says.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.

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