Ukraine and the United States have launched a military exercise involving more than 30 countries in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine, despite Russian calls to cancel the drills.
The Sea Breeze 2021 manoeuvres that began on Monday and will last for two weeks are set to involve about 30 warships and 40 aircraft from US and its NATO allies and Ukraine. US destroyer Ross has arrived in the Ukrainian port of Odessa for the drills.
US Navy Capt. Kyle Gantt said that the large number of participants in the exercise reflects a shared commitment to ensuring free access to international waters.
The drills follow a rise in tensions between NATO and Moscow, which said last week it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of Black Sea waters off the coast of Crimea. The United Kingdom rejected Russia’s account of the incident.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and says it is Russian territory, but the peninsula is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine.
Britain insisted its HMS Defender had been making a routine journey through an internationally recognised travel lane and remained in Ukrainian waters near Crimea.
Russia’s embassy in Washington called last week for the latest exercises to be cancelled, and the Russian defence ministry said it would react if necessary to protect its own national security.
Ukraine says the main goal is to gain experience in joint actions during multinational peacekeeping and security operations.
Relations between Kyiv and Moscow plummeted after Russia seized Crimea and over Russia’s support for a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Discord rose again this year when Russia massed troops on the border with Ukraine, where some of them remain along with their equipment.