5000 soldiers, 32 warships and 40 fighters. Today Ukraine and the United States begin a two-week military exercise in and around the Black Sea. Forces from 30 countries are participating, according to the US, the highest number of participating countries for military exercise in that area.
The large-scale operation will be closely monitored by Russia, which feels surrounded and threatened by the West. Moscow urged the US to cancel the operation. The Foreign Ministry speaks of a provocation and suspects that the exercise brings new weapons to Ukraine.
The Sea Breeze exercise has been performed annually since 1997, with a single break. In addition to NATO countries, military personnel from Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, Senegal and South Korea are also participating. The Netherlands would also participate, but has withdrawn because of a “changed planning”, let a Ministry of Defense spokesperson know.
The international exercise follows a few days after an incident between the British and Russian Navy. According to Moscow, the British came too close to the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, which was annexed by Russia. Warning shots and bombs were fired near the British naval ship. London contradicts that there were shelling and states that the ship was sailing through international waters.
The Marinetraffic.com website showed at the time of the incident that the Dutch ship Zr.Ms. Evertsen set course towards Sevastopol in Crimea, but that digital navigation data was falsified according to the Defence Newspaper. In reality, the ship was at that time in the port of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. Whoever was behind the manipulation is unknown.
The U.S. Department of Defense stated last year that the Black Sea region should be stable and prosperous, for the sake of maritime trade and European security. “Aggressive actors seeking destabilization should be scared off,” the Pentagon said at the time, referring to Russia.
The relationship between Ukraine and Russia has been very hostile since the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine. After years of relative tranquility, the tension arose this spring, following a new Ukrainian approach to NATO and large-scale troop building by the Russians along the Russian border. In the self-proclaimed “Peoples Republics” Donetsk and Lugansk, dozens of deaths have been killed in combat this year.