The USS Ross enters the port of Constanta, Romania, ahead of joint U.S.-Ukraine naval exercises in the Black Sea. (photo: U.S. Navy)
United States-led, Ukraine-hosted naval exercises will start this week in the Black Sea, ahead of NATO exercises in Western Ukraine later this month. While both exercises are iterations of annual drills and so not directly in response to the events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the fact that they're going ahead is nevertheless a signal of U.S. support for Kiev.
The naval exercises, Sea Breeze, are usually held in July but were put off until September this year. They'll be led by the U.S. destroyer USS Ross and also include ships from Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, Canada, and Spain. One apparent concession to the heightened tension in the region this year: unlike in previous years, no U.S. or NATO ships will dock in Ukraine this time.
"Much of the exercise will focus on maritime interdiction operations as a primary means to enhance maritime security," announced U.S. European Command in a statement. "The other key components of the exercise focus on communications, search and rescue, force protection and navigation."
Ukraine's navy was in a woeful state before the current crisis; since then its main base at Sevastopol was annexed by Russia, its commander defected to Russia, and many of its ships were seized by Russia.
In that context, this sentence from the U.S. statement could be interpreted in various ways: "Leaders from Ukraine and the U.S., co-hosts for the 13th iteration of the exercise, share sentiments about the progress of both the exercise and maritime security in the Black Sea that have occurred since the exercise's inception." One wonders about Ukrainian leaders' sentiments about "progress" in Black Sea maritime security...
No Russian official appears to have commented directly on the exercise, but RIA Novosti writes: "Sea Breeze exercises by NATO forces began in 1997, and have often been met with hostility by anti-NATO political forces in Ukraine. NATO has been flexing its muscles near the Russian border since Crimea’s reunification with Russia in March. Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern over Western pressure on Russia."