Sea Breeze is an annual air, land and maritime exercise designed to improve maritime safety, security and stability in the Black Sea, according to the US Navy. [Operation "Sea Breeze" is the Israeli code name for the martiime blockade of Gaza] Sea Breeze is Ukraine's oldest, largest and best-known multinational military exercise since it gained independence from the Soviet Union. The exercises on the northwestern Black Sea coast are an annual event led by Ukraine and the US and is based upon a 1993 memorandum on military cooperation between the two countries. Russia took part in Sea Breeze only once, back in 1998. Russia has protested the presence of US and NATO warships in the Black Sea, citing a 1936 convention that restricts warship tonnage in bodies of water for nations that do not border the waterway.
Sea Breeze has had special meaning for Ukraine ever since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, which resulted in the Ukrainian Navy losing a base and several ships. The Russian Black Sea fleet was clearly a cut above the Ukrainian Navy prior to annexation, and it has extended its superiority ever since by introducing additional warships, some even equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles. Odessa has since become Ukraine's main navy base and is often used by ships belonging to NATO. Because of the unequal balance of power with Russia, Sea Breeze is seen as a way of showing international solidarity with Ukraine. Sea Breeze remains the largest annual NATO Black Sea PfP naval exercise.
Sea Breeze 2020
The year 2020 marked the 20th iteration of exercise Sea Breeze, which brought together eight sovereign nations who share U.S. 6th Fleet’s commitment to security and stability in the Black Sea. The 27 ships and 19 aircraft all working together toward the common goal of strengthening cohesion across the Black Sea region and improving the capabilities of all participants. They did this while adhering to all protocols required to keep Sailors healthy and safe.
This year focused on sea and air operations enabling us to train and build interoperability while also warfighting safely in this new normal with COVID-19. Collective training objectives for exercise Sea Breeze 2020 include maritime interdiction operations, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, damage control, and search and rescue. In addition, this year forces conducted more “free play,” meaning participants had more freedom to accomplish training objectives outside the confines of scripted exercise injects. This will enable participants to fine tune the skills they have developed during previous Sea Breeze exercises.
The exercise took place exclusively at sea this year. This precaution allowed units to enhance multinational operational cooperation, while ensuring that crews remain healthy and ready. All participating nations carefully considered participation in the exercise and took appropriate measures to ensure the safety and health of participating military personnel.
Sea Breeze 2021
The exercise Sea Breeze 2021 is taking place from June 28 to July 10 in the Black Sea region, focused on multiple warfare areas including amphibious warfare, land maneuver warfare, diving operations, maritime interdiction operations, air defense, special operations integration, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue operations. This year’s iteration has the largest number of participating nations in the exercise’s history with 32 countries from six continents providing 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operations and dive teams scheduled to participate.
Ukraine and U.S. cohosted the exercise in the Black Sea with participation and support coming from 32 countries in total: Albania, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.
NATO's Sea Breeze naval operations involved around 5,000 military personnel from NATO and other allies, and around 30 ships and 40 aircraft. The US missile destroyer USS Ross and the US Marine Corps also took part. Participating countries included the US, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Israel, Morocco, Japan, South Korea and Australia [not a roster of countries normally thought of as taking an interest in Black Sea or Ukrainian affairs]. Germany, which has been involved in the past, did not take part this year, although German Air Force pilots were roped in for air policing duties, along with the British Air Force. Various exercises are planned at sea, on land and in the air with the goal of bringing Ukraine up to NATO standards. Officials also want to achieve better multinational cooperation in regional "peacekeeping," according to spokesperson for Ukraine's Defense Ministry.
On closer inspection, the forces involved in the drills were anything but massive. A majority of the ships, 24 of them, were Ukrainian and only a couple of them are warships. And only a few Western NATO warships were involved in the exercises, like the US destroyer Ross which is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Moscow called for the drills, which lasted two weeks, to be canceled. Russia's Defense Ministry said it would respond to any threats to national security if necessary, adding that it was monitoring the training.
A military incident off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula caused quite a stir. The British warship HMS Defender was en route from the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa to Georgia when it encountered Russian forces. On 23 June 2021, HMS Defender crossed the state border claimed by the Russian Federation and entered the territorial sea in the area of Cape Fiolent for 3 km. This Freedom of Navigation exercise was intnded to demontrate the UK's non-recognition of Russia's annexation of Crimea. A Russian coast guard ship fired warning shots, while a Su-24M fighter jet dropped bombs along the UK warship’s path to chase it out of Crimean waters. The British Defense Ministry denied that any such incident had taken place. The incident sparked tensions between Moscow and London and came just days ahead of the Sea Breeze multinational naval maneuvers led by Ukraine and the United States in the Black Sea.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that London does not recognize the reunification of Crimea with Russia in 2014. "As you know, the UK does not recognize Russia's statements regarding Crimea." Pavel Felgenhauer noted "the Su-24M bombing mission flopped, and the FSB boats turned out to be too slow for the agile HMS Defender. Instead of being intimidated, the UK caused Russia a loss of face by publicly denying a shooting incident even took place." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov announced "We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law. If this does not help, we can bomb, not just at the course, but also at the target, if colleagues do not understand,"
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated during a nationally telecast interview on 30 June 2021 that the incident involving the British guided missile destroyer HMS Defender off Crimea in the Black Sea was an act of ‘provocation’. Putin called it an Anglo-American operation. In Putin’s words, “This is, of course, a provocation, which is absolutely clear. What did these provocateurs want to show and what goals did they seek to achieve? First of all, it [the provocation] was comprehensive and was staged not only by the British but also by the Americans because the British warship ventured into our territorial waters in the afternoon while early in the morning, at 07:30, a US strategic reconnaissance plane took off from a NATO airfield in Greece, from Crete, I believe. I later received a report on that. We saw and observed it clearly.” Putin added, “It was obvious that the destroyer intruded in pursuit of military aims, trying to find out with the help of a reconnaissance plane what our armed forces’ countermeasures to this sort of provocations might be, to see what facilities are activated, where they are located and how they work. We did see that and knew that, so we disclosed only the information that we found appropriate. Possibly, I’ve blabbed out a secret, my apologies to the military.”
Provocateurs, who will continue playing their games in the Black Sea, will get what is coming to them, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in an interview with the journal International Affairs on 06 July 2021, commenting on the situation with the British warship. "With provocateurs it’s essential to speak as straightforwardly as possible, spelling out in detail, why they would be better off leaving their provocations aside next time and staying away from that area because they will get clocked in the nose," the high-ranking Russian diplomat emphasized. "The risks of conflicts may further mount. The Black Sea is not a place, where such games are permissible,"
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