The U.S. and Ukraine formally kicked off almost two weeks of naval exercises on Monday in and around the Black Sea as part of the latest iteration of Sea Breeze.
The Russian military has pledged to keep close tabs on the 11 nation drills and has dispatched the Krivak-class guided missile frigate Ladny to shadow U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) since the destroyer crossed into the Black Sea last week, according to a report from the Russian news agency Interfax.
The exercise comes as tensions between Russia and the West are still high since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and as the civil war in Ukraine continues in near the Russian border.
Members of the Russian State Duma have called the actions provocative moves by the U.S. and NATO to aid in Ukraine in the conflict.
“These multinational exercises should be viewed as direct participation by the U.S. and NATO in ramping up the strategic and combat preparedness of the Ukrainian armed forces,” Franz Klintsevich, a member of the State Duma’s Defense Committee, told state controlled RIA Novosti on Monday.
“The negative impact this will have on the ongoing armed conflict in Donbass is tantamount to sending lethal weapons to Kiev.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said during remarks at the opening ceremony in Odessa said the exercises would help increase security in the region.
Since the seizure of Crimea, NATO and the U.S. have maintained a near constant presence in the Black Sea that have led to low level confrontations between NATO and Russian forces, including a an April 2014 buzz of Cook by Russian fighters and complaints from Canada about a September 2014 overflight of surveillance aircraft and fighters over HMCS Toronto (FFH-333).
“After Crimea was annexed, the Black Sea region is no longer stable and secure,” Yatsenyuk said during the official opening ceremony of the exercises in Odessa on Tuesday according to Interfax.
U.S. 6th Fleet said the exercise — which has been held since 1997 — will focus on “maritime interdiction operations as a primary means to enhance maritime security,” during the at-sea phase of the exercise as well as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and protecting against small boat attacks.
“Naval forces are stronger when we operate together with our partners. Eleven nations have gathered here for the sole purpose of increasing our ability to work with each other,” Vice Adm. James Foggo III said in a Tuesday statement.
“This impressive commitment shows our dedication to confront today’s challenges together as one force.”
The exercise is scheduled to run until Sept. 12.