On Monday, NATO began its annual Black Sea naval exercise. Sea Breeze ‘21 is underway with this year’s exercise being co-hosted by the US Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy. It is scheduled to run until 10 July and the multinational exercise will include forces from thirty-two nations. 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operations and dive teams will be involved in the exercise and related operations. This makes Sea Breeze ’21 the largest installment of the annual, multinational exercise, which first began in 1997.
This year there is considerably more attention on the exercise given recent events in the Black Sea. Last week’s encounter between a British destroyer and Russian air and naval forces has raised tensions in the area. As anticipated, Russia will be monitoring the exercise closely and is likely to run a short-notice exercise in the area as well. In fact, Russian forces held snap naval and air exercise in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday, not long after the incident with HMS Defender. The eastern Med has become more congested with an increased number of Russian warships and aircraft operating in close proximity to Syria. Encounters between NATO and Russian forces have become almost routine of late.