JEvery year, the Western and Ukrainian armed forces practice together in the Black Sea. “Sea Breeze” is the name of the exercise that has been around since 1997. But this year is a lot different than usual. Last week there was massive tension between Russia and Great Britain after a British destroyer drove past the Crimean peninsula. The Russians came fairly close to the warship with twenty fighter planes, threatened to attack if the ship did not change course, and fired artillery nearby. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry warned the British and Americans not to “challenge fate”. This referred to the new exercise that started on Monday and will essentially last for two weeks.
American commanders made it clear to journalists on Tuesday that they did not want to be intimidated. “We’re showing the world that the Black Sea is an international sea. It is open to all nations for trade and shipping, ”said Captain Kyle Gantt, who commands the guided missile destroyer USS Ross. The ship has been under surveillance by the Russian Navy since it passed the Bosphorus. It is the right of the Russians to do that, said Gantt, they have the same right to be there as any other country. The decisive point is: “The Black Sea does not belong to one nation.” That is the political message of the maneuver, combined with a sign of solidarity with Ukraine.
Sea area around Crimea considered Ukrainian
In order to underpin this solidarity, this year’s exercise is the largest so far. More than thirty countries participate in it. Together they make up 32 warships, forty military aircraft and a total of around 5,000 soldiers. The majority of the forces come from the Ukraine, which alone is providing 24 ships and organizing the maneuver with the United States. The British Royal Navy has dispatched a patrol ship. NATO participates with its permanent operational unit for the Mediterranean, which is led by an Italian frigate. Landings, intercepting ships and airplanes, tracking submarines and clearing sea mines are all practiced. American special forces will also salvage a Soviet-era wreck by the end of July that sank in the port of Odessa, blocking a jetty there.
The maneuver takes place off the coast of Odessa “exclusively in international and Ukrainian waters,” as Captain Gantt said. Of course, the western states also regard the sea area around the Crimea as Ukrainian, as NATO emphasized in a communication: “NATO does not recognize the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea by Russia and will not do so in the future either.” Week the maneuver participants will keep a proper distance to the occupied peninsula. They expect the Russians to be “confident and professional”.