SeaBreeze 2021: Russia and NATO continue butting heads over exercises

Russia eyes SeaBreeze 2021 exercises, calls them “provocation.” 

By | Rachel Brooks

July 7, 2021 

SeaBreeze 2021 military drills are underway in the Black Sea, and Russia is coming out to meet them… 

War games in the Black Sea. Newsweek writes that the United States “defends” the essential NATO drills in the Black Sea even as Russia’s threats increase. As tensions increase, Russia states that it has been “tracking a Spanish naval ship” in the Black Sea.  Reuters reports this development on July 7, citing Interfax News Agency as its source. Interfax quoted the Russian Ministry of Defense. 

The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Spanish vessel entered the Black Sea on July 7. The ship had joined the SeaBreeze 2021 NATO defense exercise, a joint defense operation with more than 30 countries participating. 

Russia also escorted a foreign aircraft over the Black Sea. The vessel was a Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft was present accompanying the exercises. 

This week, Business Insider news reports that Russian warplanes are “practicing bombing enemy ships” in the Black Sea. Russia launches exercises follows the U.S.-Ukraine hosted NATO SeaBreeze 21 exercises. NATO exercises began on June 28.

Russian response follows a United Kingdom warship passing through Russia-controlled waters. Classified documents left at a bus stop in Kent revealed the Royal Navy was “prepared for the welcoming party,” the BBC reports. Russia sees the recent traffic of the United Kingdom warship in Russian-controlled waters as a provocation. 

Russia thinks NATO can’t stand a chance in a Black Sea fight 

The National Interest notes Russian President Putin’s doubt that NATO forces can stand up to Russia in the Black Sea. Putin said in a recent TV appearance that Russia could sink the United Kingdom warship HMS Defender without triggering mass-scale conflict. He says this is because NATO “knows it cannot win” a fight with Russia in the Black Sea.

Because Russia has built up a strong fleet in the Black Sea near annexed Crimea, analysts say that such a boast may be more than a political bluff. 

Russia reacts to provocation, but NATO, based on recent statements, maintains that the exercises are routine. The Black Sea is a regional conflict flashpoint and has been for centuries. Russia established a strong position in Black Sea naval defenses during its Imperial War with Turkey. The National Interest comments on the volatile politics that surround the Black Sea defense today. The Black Sea is in the geographic zone of the Russian territory conflict with Ukraine. 

NATO continues business as usual

Russia ramps up its bravado. NATO continues its business as usual. Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby spoke at a press conference on July 6. He gave general updates on the SeaBreeze 21 drills.

“On to Exercise Sea Breeze ’21 — over the weekend, Ukrainian President Zelensky visited the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross to reinforce the bonds of our two nations,” said Kirby.

“Today, USS Ross got back underway, continuing to build our maritime interoperability in the Black Sea.” 

“Also in Sea Breeze, U.S., Ukrainian, Canadian, Polish and Georgian divers are working side-by-side to remove a civilian vessel that sunk in 2016 and is now blocking a portion of the Odesa Port pier,” he continued. 

Kirby then highlighted the partnership impact he expects these exercises will have. 

“This cooperative dive and salvage operation and — will increase port access and maritime safety, demonstrating the tangible lasting impacts our partnerships,” he said. 

“And as we’ve said, exercises like Sea Breeze allows participants to learn from each other and strengthen relationships between NATO, allied and partner nations in the region.” 

Kirby’s statements add detail to the goals NATO announced for its “routine” exercise. 

NATO released a statement on SeaBreeze 21 on June 25. This statement explains the purpose and the goals the operation hopes to achieve. 

“In the Black Sea region, NATO is strengthening deterrence and defense with joint exercises and maritime patrols such as the upcoming exercise SEA BREEZE 2021,” wrote NATO. 

 “This is a good example of how Allies and Partners provide unique training opportunities, designed to enhance readiness, improve collaboration, and interoperability in the Black Sea region.” 

NATO also maintains that the exercises stay in the framework of international law. 

“NATO warships routinely operate in the Black Sea, consistent with international law, usually patrolling the waters for around two-thirds of the year. NATO ships also regularly participate in both NATO and national exercises in the Black Sea to enhance interoperability, demonstrate a presence, and assure Allies of the maritime commitment to collective defense,” the agency wrote. 

SeaBreeze 2021 exercises are scheduled to end on July 10.