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Dueling Russian and U.S.-Led Exercises Underway in the Black Sea

July 21, 2020 (EIRNS)—The Black Sea is the scene, this week, of competing exercises, with the U.S.-led “Sea Breeze” exercise with Ukraine and six other NATO members on the one side, and the Russian snap exercise ongoing in the Western and Southern Military Districts that began on July 17, on the other. Deputy Defense Minister Col.-Gen. Alexander Fomin told a briefing of military attachés in Moscow, yesterday, that the snap exercise “is a training measure and is not aimed against other countries.” He stressed, as he had said in earlier briefings, that it is aimed at preparing the forces for the Caucasus 2020 exercise coming up in September. “Therefore, all the tasks of holding the surprise combat readiness check are being fulfilled in accordance with the approved plan. The results of the operations of military units and formations will be analyzed,” he explained.

The message from Sea Breeze, on the other hand, is aimed squarely at Russia. Besides the U.S. and Ukraine, other countries participating include Bulgaria, Georgia, Norway, Romania, Spain, and Turkey. “It started in 1997, and for the Ukrainian side, this [was] the main tool for entering NATO,” Rear Adm. Oleksiy Neizhpapa, commander of the Ukrainian Navy, said via a translator in a July 20 conference call with reporters.

The week-long exercise will include 26 ships and 19 aircraft operating in the Black Sea but will be truncated due to the coronavirus pandemic. There will be no onshore events. “The main aim of this year’s exercise is the maritime security in the crisis area,” Neizhpapa said.

“Due to the COVID-19, we reduced the duration of our exercise to one week. But I hope that this exercise will be conducted on the high level and will be fruitful and we will receive a lot of experience.”

Vice Adm. Gene Black, who just took command of the U.S. 6th Fleet on July 17, said that he doesn’t expect an escalation of tensions with the Russian Black Sea Fleet. “I doubt that we will have any interaction at all, and if we do, I’m sure it’ll be professional and in accordance with the laws and norms of maritime operations at sea,” he said.

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