Brussels (Brussels Morning) A total of 32 western countries embarked on a massive “Sea Breeze” military exercise in the Black Sea today. Organised and led by the US and Ukraine, it has drawn sharp criticism from the Kremlin.
The exercise is getting underway just a few days after the Russian coast guard and air force reportedly fired warning shots at a British destroyer passing through Crimean waters. Moscow claims the waters are Russian whereas Ukraine and its western allies insist they are Ukrainian, never having recognised Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula as legal.
This year’s Sea Breeze drills, organised annually since 1997, feature the largest ever number of participants, with 32 countries from six continents taking part in the exercise. According to official sources, the two-weeks will focus on amphibious warfare, diving operations, air defence and anti-submarine warfare, plus other military drills.
The US involvement includes an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Ross, and a contingent of US Marine Corps troops. Overall, the exercises will coordinate activities involving 32 ships, 40 aircraft and more than 5,000 troops, including 18 special operations and dive teams.
Commenting on the drills, Kiev stated that the main goal is for the countries concerned to gain experience in conducting joint actions during multinational security and peacekeeping operations.
Moscow issued a call for this year’s exercises to be cancelled through its Washington envoy, while Russia’s Defence Ministry warned it would react “if necessary” to protect its own national security.
Amidst growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which has significantly increased its troop and materiel presence along the border between the two countries, Moscow views the drills as a threat to its tentative hold on Crimea. Even though Moscow exerts de facto control over the peninsula, a vast majority of UN members refuse to recognise Russia’s territorial claim.