The international military exercises Sea Breeze 2021 have recently been held in the Black Sea. They were the largest drills in more than 20 years as they involved 32 warships, 40 aircraft and 5,000 personnel from 17 NATO member states and partners. More than 20 ships and boats, 17 planes, dozens of weapons and military equipment from Ukraine took part in the exercises.
In the new issue of the "National Security Council" program on the YouTube channel ISLND TV, Tetiana Popova discussed the Ukrainian-American exercises Sea Breeze 2021 with the head of the Sea Breeze 2021 exercise from the American side, Captain First Rank of the US Navy, Stuart Bauman.
POPOVA: First of all, how do this year's Sea Breeze exercises differ from the previous ones? They have been held here in Ukraine since 1997.
BAUMAN: Well, there have been many things that are the same. Such as the partnership between Ukraine and the US and NATO partners and allies. However, this year we have the largest Sea Breeze ever with 30 countries participating. We have 30 ships and 40 aircraft. So, it is the largest and most comprehensive Sea Breeze since we began in 1997.
POPOVA: In previous programs, Ukrainian Navy Admiral Ihor Kabanenko said that there was a "war of exercises" between Ukraine and Russia. If you agree with him, what can it lead to?
BAUMAN: I would characterize it as we particularly in the US and NATO see our commitment to Sea Breeze as not to be a provocation or an escalation in any way. But rather a commitment and continuing support of the Ukrainian nation and the entire Black Sea region. We have been participating in the region and conducting exercises for decades now. And we fully intend to continue to do that for the free and open access to both sea and air.
POPOVA: Captain, why do you think Russia has this kind of reaction to Sea Breeze exercises?
BAUMAN: I think that any time that you have an adversary who continues and is steadfast in their commitment like we are that at times may be threatening to some nations or upsetting to some. But by no means is the US being antagonistic or threatening in any way. This is a partnership for peace and we are simply ensuring that we have free access to international waters and international airspace. I think that there have been other periods where we've seen similar maybe not to the same extent responses from the Russians. I think that we have observed from a respectful distance acting very professionally on the sea and in the air. So to that extent, I think it's just more of the same.
POPOVA: In what part of the Black Sea were the drills held?
BAUMAN: So that was in international waters off of Odesa and to the south in the Black Sea in a previously designated location that was published to the international community.
POPOVA: After the training, what part of the allied ships will remain in Odesa?
BAUMAN: So this year the schedule of exercises is that we started with Sea Breeze here in Odesa and then, as you said, Breeze will be conducted soon after in Bulgaria. And the USS Ross guided-missile destroyer as well as ships from the standing NATO maritime group. Two will be participating in that as well. There are some ships that came back to Odesa for just a couple of days but they will be participating in Breeze as well.
POPOVA: What exactly does Ukraine lack to force Russia to comply with international maritime law?
BAUMAN: Well, Sea Breeze is a maritime event that we are here to ensure that we have freedom of navigation in international seas and air. The basis for the way we set up Sea Breeze and execute the exercise is in order to ensure that we do have access. International law is based on customs over time and the best way to ensure that you maintain access is to exercise the rights of passage in those areas. So where there is international waters if a nation sails in those international waters that is establishing a pattern and custom of ensuring that it remains international waters. So one of the main reasons that we do Sea Breeze is to ensure that we maintain that free access to the Black Sea. So that we can continue to have it in the future.
POPOVA: What do you think about the passage of the British destroyer Defender near Crimea and the reaction of Russia to this passage?
BAUMAN: Unfortunately, that's a situation between Russia and UK and it would be more appropriate for me to refer you to the British government to discuss that.
POPOVA: What contribution from countries, other than the United States, was significant in these exercises?
BAUMAN: We had 30 nations participate and observe this year as we discussed earlier that's the largest number of participants in the history of Sea Breeze. I'm sure I will forget some and I and then to those countries I apologize but we did have UK. We had the USS Ross. We had Georgian participation, the Standing Naval Maritime Group which included ships from Turkey, Spain and Italy. And then we had troops from Moldova and Georgia. We had Canadians, there were many countries -the Baltic states, Sweden, Norway, Estonia. So, we had a very large contingent from around the world. Many countries are very interested in supporting Ukraine and ensuring that we send a very strong message that there's a commitment to a stable Black Sea region and freedom of access to international waters.
POPOVA: China continues to increase its fleet. Britain and France are doing the same. Who will have the largest navy in 20 years? How will the US keep its leading role? After all, in terms of numbers, the United States is likely soon to have fewer ships than China.
BAUMAN: That is true there are in many areas of the world there are many a very large building program. And I can't answer the question directly but I can say that it's not always a question of numbers. It is also very the capabilities and the fortitude of the sailors. Our sailors are our greatest asset in the US and we have great technology and great ships. Our sailors are the ones that we rely on to a great extent and believe that is where our strength lies.
POPOVA: As far as I understand, you have just returned directly from a helicopter from Oleshky Sands and there were some Marines exercises. Рlease, tell us about them.
BAUMAN: Yes, at Oleshky Sands we had the US marines and we had Ukrainian forces as well as Georgian and Moldovan forces who participated in a wide variety of land warfare. Such as air assaults, amphibious, landings, search and rescue and reconnaissance. Speaking with the US marines and the other forces that were present, they had some excellent training, being able to share different techniques and tactics as well as practicing interoperability between them. And so, overall it was an excellent exercise, one that greatly enhanced the capabilities and the stability of the region.
Photo credit: Nina Liashonok