Tuesday, June 29, 2021

NATO's Largest-Ever Naval Drills Begin In Black Sea

NATO’s Largest-Ever ‘Sea Breeze’ Naval Drills Begin in Black Sea Amid HMS Defender Fracas

The US and its allies have begun using “freedom of navigation operations” to provoke incidents at sea with Russia, China, and other nations by deliberately sailing their warships through those nations’ claimed territorial waters. The US claims to be enforcing the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, but it’s never ratified the document itself.

The US and 31 allies and partners inaugurated the 21st Sea Breeze exercises in Odessa, Ukraine, on Monday. The drills, positioned immediately off Russia’s Crimean coast, are the largest yet and come as Kiev is increasing pressure on NATO to be admitted to the alliance.

A ceremony in the Ukrainian port city on Monday declared the opening of the massive drills, which will run until July 10 and feature a variety of nautical exercises, from amphibious warfare and anti-submarine warfare to diving, maritime interdiction operations, air defense, and search and rescue, according to the US Navy.

In addition to the US and Ukraine, 30 other nations are participating, including 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, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. They have collectively contributed 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations and dive teams.

Last week, Russian aircraft and warships acted to deter two different NATO warships in the Black Sea for the Sea Breeze drills from violating Russian territorial waters near Crimea. 

One incident on June 23 saw the British destroyer HMS Defender sail within 10 nautical miles of the Crimean coast, violating both Russian territorial integrity and sea closures associated with Russian military drills. Sukhoi Su-24 naval strike aircraft dropped bombs in front of the Defender to get her attention and an Okhotnik-class patrol boat fired warning shots near Defender, as well.

The Defender claimed to be sailing through Ukrainian waters and to have done nothing wrong because, according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “we don’t recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea, this is part of a sovereign Ukrainian territory.”

With all of the NATO-friendly aircraft in the area, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet saw fit to test out its S-400 Triumf air defense systems, a surface-to-air missile battery that has served as an effective deterrent to Western aircraft in Syria. The Defense Ministry has also said it is keeping a very close eye on the activities of Sea Breeze participants before, during, and after the drills.

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