The Sea Breeze naval exercise co-hosted by the United States and Ukraine kicked off on Monday in the Black Sea.
The Sea Breeze is an annual international exercise aimed at strengthening cooperation among allies to ensure stability in the Black Sea region.
Meanwhile, a military source in Crimea told Sputnik that the Russian Black Sea Fleet would keep an eye on the exercise.
“The Sea Breeze drills will be permanently monitored by the Black Sea Fleet, including with the use of aerial reconnaissance and ground-based stations,” the source said.
According to the source, the Black Sea Fleet will engage its reconnaissance assets until the end of the exercise.
“Currently, the fleet has enough planes for permanent aerial observance and monitoring. Ships will also be engaged to monitor the drills from a distance,” the source said.
In an interview with Radio Sputnik, Russian military expert Capt. Dmitry Litovkin pointed out that the drills raise reasonable questions in Russia.
“Previously, during a series of similar exercises, US and Ukrainian forces jointly practiced amphibious landing on an unprepared coast. This means that these drills may have additional goals, including practicing seizure of territories. Amphibious landing indicates that there is an aggressive component, including taking dominance in the region,” Litovkin said.
He noted that the exercise is planned and commanded by the US Navy and will involve US warships.
“The US dictates the rules of these war games. They will practice activities related to American naval activities. The US wants to operate safely and efficiently in the Black Sea,” Litovkin said.
According to the expert, NATO is preparing Ukraine for military operations as part of an alliance.
“Recently, Ukraine repaired its frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy, but it broke down again as soon as it set sail. But it is the only capable warship with the Ukrainian Navy. The rest are small boats, a mosquito fleet. NATO is preparing Ukraine for actions within a bloc, including the paperwork and communicating between officers at different levels,” Litovkin pointed out.
In turn, Russian lawmaker Dmitry Belik suggested that the Ukrainian naval forces may use the drills to stage provocations near the Russian economic zone.
“Provocations cannot be ruled out near the oil derricks of the energy company Chernomorneftegaz [in the Black Sea]. Ukraine has claims for these assets,” Belik told Sputnik.
According to the press office of the US Navy, this year’s drills, which will be held until July 22, involve air, land, sea and amphibious forces from 17 countries, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the US.
The US Navy is represented at the drills with two missile-carrying ships, including the USS Hue City cruiser and the USS Carney destroyer, a Boeing P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft and some 800 personnel. Both ships are already moored at the Odessa port.
According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, over 30 Ukrainian vessels, 29 aircraft and over 3,000 personnel will be involved in the drills.