In the midst of a dangerous military escalation, the United States and Ukraine will conduct from Monday the largest Western naval exercise ever carried out in the Black Sea, an area of strong Russian presence.
32 countries will participate in the 2021 edition of Brisa Marinha, held every year since 1997. There are 32 ships, 40 planes and more than 5,000 soldiers involved, mostly members of NATO (Western Military Alliance).
Although scheduled for last year, the exercise is taking place at a time of extremely high tension in the area. Last Wednesday (23), Russia fired warning shots for the first time since the Cold War at a NATO ship.
It was the British destroyer HMS Defender, which was heading from Ukraine to Georgia by taking a route intended to provoke the Russian reaction: to pass 3 km inside the territorial waters of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula reabsorbed by Russia in 2014.
In addition to gunfire from a Coast Guard boat, Su-24 fighter bombers surrounded the ship and, according to Moscow, dropped four bombs in front of the British ship. London denies this part of the narrative, but it bears no relation to the overall gravity of the case.
The raid was designed to show that the UK does not recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea. So far neither has the United Nations, but military clashes have only taken place between the ships of the Kremlin’s Black Sea Fleet and Ukraine.
The Foreign Ministry criticized the retention of Brisa Marinha, calling it a provocation. The Defense Department said it was watching everything, starting with the arrival in the area of the US destroyer USS Ross.
The Ukrainian navy commander, in turn, did not mince words when the maneuvers were launched on Monday. “The exercise is a powerful message to maintain stability and peace in our region,” said Oleksii Neijpapa.
The Black Sea is one of the most complex strategic crossroads in the world. On the one hand, there’s Russia and Crimea, which were militarized with powerful anti-aircraft systems and ballistic missiles, and had housed the Russian fleet since the late 18th century – it occupied much of licensed Sevastopol. from Kiev until annexation. .
On the other, rival Ukraine and its NATO allies, notably Turkey, which occupies the southern shore of the sea and the strait connecting it to the Mediterranean. For Moscow, this is the only direct exit to the theater of operations on this sea, which includes its bases in conflicted Syria.
With Marine Breeze, Western forces will train resistance to amphibious invasion, area blockade, assault operations, among others.
This is no different from what Russia often does in the same region and currently trains in the Mediterranean, in an exercise widely seen as a response to the Black Sea incident.
There, the action is on a smaller scale, with just five ships, but using forces based in Syria and including for the first time MiG-31K fighters, capable of firing the new Kinjal hypersonic missiles.
It was a message to the UK, which is deploying its new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the region – including attacks on ISIS in Syria. This is the first voyage of the ship and its support group, of which the Defender is a part.
It is part of the New London Power Projection Doctrine, based on the Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship, the Prince of Wales, which is still in testing.
“This is intended to be a symbol of the UK’s strategic direction on the Indo-Pacific,” wrote Nick Childs and Jonathan Bentham on the blog of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
The region will be the next leg of the strike group’s journey, which carries British and American F-35B forward fighters. “However, there are long-term doubts,” they add.
In any case, the assertiveness demonstrated last week shows that the relationship between the most pro-American member of NATO and Russia has waned by a few steps, three years after the near-breakup due to the poisoning. of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.
The Ukrainian conflict has returned to the headlines this year. It all started in 2014, when the pro-Moscow government was overthrown in Kiev, prompting President Vladimir Putin to absorb the Russian ethnic region of Crimea and instigate pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
The civil war is frozen, having killed 14,000 people, but Ukraine has signaled it could take military action by deploying forces to the region earlier this year. Putin retaliated and mobilized tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, sounding the alarm bells at NATO in April.
Added to this is the resumption of American aggression under Joe Biden against Putin, with sanctions due to the repression of the local opposition, and Russian support for the Belarusian dictatorship – which even intercepted a European civilian plane to stop a dissident flying in its airspace.