NATO and Ukraine have concluded two weeks of military exercises in the Black Sea. The Sea Breeze drills involved 5,000 troops, plus dozens of ships and aircraft. The more than thirty countries that took part aimed to demonstrate the strength of their alliance to an increasingly assertive Russia.
DW correspondent Nick Connolly has been on board the USS Ross, a destroyer that took part in the maneuvers. He reports from the Ukrainian port of Odesa:
Never out of sight, Russian ships shadowed the USS Ross and its allied ships at just a few kilometers’ distance in the international waters of the Black Sea.
Joint US-Ukrainian exercises are nothing new – but this year is far from normal – after Russia’s unprecedented troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders.
Potential conflicts with Russian forces – precisely what these sailors are training for – is very definitely not something the US Navy wants to talk about. Crew members scrupulously avoid talking about Russia, even though much of their time is spent monitoring Russian activity around them.
Russian fighter jets operate in international airspace, much in the same way as Sea Breeze participants operate in international airspace.
A Russian jet makes its presence felt – a reminder if any were needed that the United States’ insistence on freedom of access to international waters isn’t an argument that cuts any ice in Moscow, which views the Black Sea as its backyard and has complained of ‘provocative muscle-flexing.’
At 5,000 troops participating on land and on sea – these US-Ukrainian led exercises may have been the biggest ever, but they’re still easily dwarfed by exercises Russia holds in this part of the world involving tens of thousands of participants.
The unspoken message behind these exercises is clear – that Ukraine won’t be left alone with its unpredictable neighbor Russia. But what exactly happens when these foreign ships return home?
With NATO membership for Ukraine no closer to becoming a reality and no formal security guarantees given – Ukrainians still have many good reasons to worry about their country’s security.
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