U.S. to lead 27-nation NATO naval exercise near Crimea
The final planning conference for this year’s Sea Breeze naval exercise occurred in Odessa, 188 miles from the Crimean port city of Sevastopol* where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based. Sea Breeze 2021 will be the twenty-first iteration of the U.S. Sixth Fleet-organized event, one employed to drill with the navies and other armed forces of America’s NATO allies and partners in Russia’s backyard. Ukraine is host nation and will co-organize the exercise with U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. Odessa will be a key hub for the activities.
This year’s exercise will be unprecedented in terms of the number of nations participating: 27. (By one count 29.) Including those observing the event, there will be 35 nations involved. Thirty ships and as many aircraft will participate.
With U.S. Navy Europe and U.S. Navy Africa recently merging, this year’s planning conference also included personnel from Tunisia (a member of NATO’s Mediterrnean Dialogue partnership) and Senegal.
The announcement of the unparalleled broad composition of the naval war games comes on the heals of a recent meeting of the Bucharest Nine in Romania and the creation on May 17 of an Association Trio of three former Soviet states in the Black Sea region: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The foreign minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, said of the development:
“The associated trio is our message that there is no alternative to European integration for our three partner countries, and there is no alternative also for Europe, because they must perceive our three countries as a serious project to ensure peace and prosperity in Europe.”
European integration is a code word for membership in NATO and the European Union.
Bucharest Nine members – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – have already achieved membership in both Brussels-based blocs and will facilitate the absorption of the other three mentioned above.
Excepting Russia the entire Black Sea region is now an integral component of NATO’s Eastern Flank (as Africa and the Middle East are its Southern Flank), with Russia on the wrong end of the divide that now runs from the Arctic Ocean to the Caucasus.
NATO and the U.S. contest with Russia the status of two political entities on the Black Sea: Crimea and Abkhazia. The first, part of Russia since 2014, is called a temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine and the other a Russian-occupied territory of Georgia.
History’s largest military bloc has only one tool as its disposal to resolve those disputes: war.
*The equivalent would be for the Russian Black Sea Fleet to organize a naval exercise with 26 partners in the Western Hemisphere in the Delaware Bay, about the same distance from the Naval Station Norfolk where the U.S. Atlantic Fleet is based as Odessa is from Sevastopol where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is. Surely President Biden would have no objections….