US, Ukraine launch Black Sea drills while Moscow puts its fleet on alert
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 20, 2020
STUTTGART, Germany — The Navy destroyer USS Porter and submarine hunting aircraft joined a large-scale exercise that kicked off Monday in the Black Sea, where Russia recently ordered snap combat readiness drills involving thousands of troops.
About 400 U.S. sailors and 2,000 personnel from allied and partner states are participating in Sea Breeze 20, an annual exercise in the Black Sea co-hosted by Ukraine and the United States.
“The exercise will focus on multiple warfare areas including maritime interdiction operations, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, damage control, and search and rescue operations,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement Monday.
The long-planned exercise began just days after Russia put thousands of its troops on alert. On Friday, state media reported that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was deployed in a “surprise combat readiness check” involving 3,000 troops, warships and combat aircraft.
It wasn’t clear from Moscow’s statements if the Sea Breeze drill factored into its decision to launch the surprise drills.
“During the exercise, the ships’ crews made their urgent preparation for a battle and practiced withdrawing the main forces from a notional enemy’s strike,” the Russian Black Sea Fleet said in a statement.
Black Sea tensions escalated in 2018 when Russia opened fire on Ukrainian vessels and seized its sailors in the sea’s Kerch Strait. Meanwhile, Russian aircraft have periodically intercepted U.S. reconnaissance flights, using close flying maneuvers deemed unsafe by U.S. officials.
NATO has stepped up its presence in the Black Sea, where the U.S. regularly sends ships for joint exercises. The arrival of the USS Porter marked the fifth U.S. Navy ship to visit the region since the start of the year.
“Porter’s return to the Black Sea reaffirms U.S. 6th Fleet’s and the U.S. Navy’s commitment to our NATO allies and partners,” Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, said in a statement.
Sea Breeze, now in its 20th iteration, runs through Sunday and includes 26 ships and 19 aircraft from eight nations — Bulgaria, Georgia, Norway, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States.