Black Sea drills showcase strong NATO-Ukraine defense ties

Ukraine and NATO warships and military aircraft have conducted Black Sea drills in a two-week show of their strong defense ties and capability

ABOARD USS ROSS -- Ukraine and NATO have conducted Black Sea drills involving dozens of warships in a two-week show of their strong defense ties and capability following a confrontation between Russia's military forces and a British destroyer off Crimea last month.

“We’d like to demonstrate to everybody, the international community, that no one nation can claim the Black Sea or any international body of water,” Cmdr. John D. John said aboard the guided missile destroyer previously deployed to the area for drills. "Those bodies of water belong to the international community, and we’re committed to ensure that all nations have access to international waterways.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was closely monitoring Sea Breeze. The Russian military also conducted a series of parallel drills in the Black Sea and southwestern Russia, with warplanes practicing bombing runs and long-range air defense missiles' deploying to protect the coast.

Last month, Russia said one of its warships in the Black Sea fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs in the path of the HMS Defender, a British Royal Navy destroyer, to chase it away from an area near Crimea that Moscow claims as its territorial waters.

Russia denounced the Defender’s maneuver as a provocation and warned that next time it might fire to hit intruding warships.

Britain, which like most other nations didn’t recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, insisted the Defender wasn’t fired upon on June 23 and said it was sailing in Ukrainian waters when Russia sent its planes into the air and shots were heard during the showdown.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that the incident with the Defender wouldn’t have triggered a global conflict even if Russia had sunk the British vessel because the West knows it can’t win such a war. The statement appeared to indicate Putin's resolve to raise the stakes should a similar incident happen again.

Aboard the Ross, John said the Sea Breeze participants were exercising their right to operate in international waters. He described the drills as “a tangible demonstration of our commitment to each other for a safe and stable Black Sea region.”

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