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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 31, New Delhi, July 17, 2021

Military Exercises On The Black Sea Might Worsen Russia-Ukraine Relations | R.G.Gidadhubli

Friday 16 July 2021

by R.G.Gidadhubli*

Ukraine and USA have carried out ‘Annual Sea Breeze Military Exercises’ from 4th to 10th July 2021 in the Kherson Region of Ukraine on the coast of Black Sea near Odessa, which assumes significance due to its timing, magnitude and intent of this military exercises. At the same time it raises few debatable issues apart from worsening relations between Russia and Ukraine.

Firstly, for both USA and Ukraine 4th July is important since it is America’s Independence Day and for Ukraine it is Navy Day. Hence on the 4th July, at the site of this exercises, both the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zhelensky and the American diplomat US Charge de Affairs in Ukraine Madam Kristina Kvien were present and complimented the armed forces. While it is a show of military might for Ukraine and for America, it is an occasion to strengthen defense and strategic ties with Ukraine. As per reports this week long exercise will be conducted in air, land and water.

Secondly, the magnitude of this exercise is important since more than 32 Vessels from 30 countries of NATO and Black Sea states (including Georgia and Azerbaijan) and over 5000 defense personnel participated in the week long exercise being hosted by Ukraine. So far Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but gets considerable support and assistance from the West.

Thirdly, as expected Russia has strongly objected to this exercise claiming that Black Sea belongs to Russia, which is not acceptable to Ukraine and the West. To counter Russia’s objection, American Defense official has stated that the Black Sea does not belong to any one country and that the West has legal right to be present on the Black Sea and even conduct its military exercises. Moreover, for Ukraine Odessa on the Black Sea is source of income for its maritime activities.

Fourthly, as expected the Russian President Vladimir Putin has called this exercise a provocation to Russia. In fact subsequent to taking over Crimea in 2014, Russia has been controlling much of the Black Sea. Even as Ukraine and the Western countries have strongly objected to Russia’s taking over Crimea contending that it was ‘illegal’ and that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Hence there is on-going dispute between Ukraine and Russia on the issue of Crimea.

Fifthly, on 23rd June 2021 a British vessel sailed into the Black Sea and UK has initiated ship building program in this region, which might take about 5 years, for which Russia has not only criticized but also objected. In fact Russia has also naval forces in the Black Sea and Crimea, which Ukrainian leaders allege that it is a security threat to their country. Ukraine has been getting substantial financial support and help from the West for its security and development. By conducting this military exercise, the USA wants to bring Ukraine closer to the West.

Sixthly, this military exercise might worsen Russia’s relations with Ukraine, which are far from close and cordial during the last several years on several issues including on-going Separatist civil movement in Eastern part of Ukraine by Russian ethnic communities, oil pipeline politics and so on. In fact Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are Slavic Brothers and hence Putin, who was against the breakup of the former Soviet Union, has been hopeful of bringing these three States closer and even uniting them politically and economically. This may remain his Dream.

Seventhly, Russia has also announced its plan to conduct its annual military exercises in the Black Sea in September 2021 to show the Military Strength of Russia and counter the West.

*(Author: Dr R.G.Gidadhubli, Professor And Former Director, Center For Central Eurasian States, University Of Mumbai )

8th July 2021

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