Just a few days ago, an incident in front of the Russian-annexed peninsula caused an uproar. The British destroyer HMS Defender was on its way from the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa to Georgia when it was escorted by Russian forces with warning shots. The incident sparked tension between Moscow and London. Against this background, the international naval exercise “Sea Breeze”, led by Ukraine and the United States, began off the Ukrainian coast on Monday.
Large numbers and controllable forces
At first glance, the numbers look impressive. A total of 32 ships, 40 aircraft and helicopters as well as 5,000 soldiers from 24 countries – including the USA, Great Britain, France, Turkey, Israel, Morocco as well as Japan – are participating in the exercises, which will last until July. 10. South Korea and Australia. Germany is not represented this time. It’s the biggest such exercise in decades – having been shortened in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ukrainian and US military during the “Sea Breeze” exercise in Odessa, 2015
Various exercises are planned on the water, on land and in the air. The Defense Ministry in Kiev said the goal was to bring Ukraine closer to NATO standards and to achieve better international cooperation in “securing peace” in the region. On closer inspection, the forces can be controlled: 24 of the 32 ships come from Ukraine. But the navy stationed in Odessa has only a few operational warships, and therefore relies on small patrol boats. Only a few Western NATO warships will take part in the exercises, including the US destroyer USS Ross armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
What is a “sea breeze”?
“Sea Breeze” is the oldest, largest and most famous international military exercise in Ukraine since its independence from the Soviet Union 30 years ago. The maneuver on the northwest coast of the Black Sea is organized annually by Ukraine and the USA. The basis is a memorandum from 1993 on military cooperation between Kiev and Washington. The first maneuvers in the Black Sea took place in 1997. Two years earlier, in 1995, Russia and Ukraine settled their long-running dispute over the division of the Black Sea Fleet.
The exercise is financed by the United States, and Ukraine provides training places in the Odessa, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions. Several countries are always involved, most of them are members of NATO and the Black Sea countries – with the exception of Russia. Only once, in 1998, the ships and soldiers of the Russian Black Sea Fleet were on the “sea breeze”.
A sign of solidarity with Kiev
Since the annexation of Crimea, the “sea breeze” had a special meaning for Kiev. The Ukrainian Navy lost its base and many ships on the peninsula annexed by Russia. Even before that, the Russian Black Sea Fleet was clearly superior to the Ukrainian Navy. After 2014, Moscow expanded and reinforced it with new warships, some of them equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles.
Russian exercises in Crimea in April 2021
Ukraine has developed Odessa into a new base to which NATO ships are also heading. Because of the unequal balance of power with Russia, the “sea breeze” in Kiev is seen as a sign of solidarity.
Russia warns and watches
Russia is watching maneuvering in the Black Sea more and more. In April 2021, the Russian Black Sea Fleet conducted unusually large exercises in the Crimea, in which, according to its own information, about 10,000 soldiers and 40 warships took part. Ships from other Russian associations were also used. In addition, Moscow announced the closure of parts of the Black Sea off Crimea to foreign shipping until the end of October.
Moscow’s appeal to the United States and its NATO allies not to participate in the “sea breeze” was also unusual. Russia will closely monitor the Ukrainian-US exercises and will respond if necessary, according to a Defense Ministry spokesperson.