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Tensions rise between NATO and Russia in the Black Sea

Putin calls alliance's military manoeuvres a "provocation"
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REUTERS/SERGEY SMOLENTSEV  -   The British Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender arrives in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine on 18 June 2021.

Since the incident between Russia and the UK off the coast of Crimea, tensions have been rising in the Black Sea region. Following the Russian attack on the British destroyer HMS Defender, other NATO countries have begun military exercises in the area. "The destroyer was warned that weaponry would be used if it crossed the border of the Russian Federation. It did not react to the warning," the Russian defence ministry argued. The British vessel had sailed up to three kilometres through waters claimed by Russia.

Under Operation Sea Breeze 2021, NATO and other regional allies such as Ukraine are conducting military actions in the Black Sea that will run until 10 July. These exercises include approximately 5,000 troops, 40 warships and more than 100 transports, including armoured vehicles. The operation is the largest in decades, according to German media outlet DW. Participating countries include Japan, Spain, Israel, Italy, France, Morocco and Italy. For the US, the large number of participants in the exercise demonstrates a "shared commitment to ensuring unimpeded access to international waters".

However, Moscow has also decided to deploy its army in the area. According to the Russian news agency TASS, Russian fighter jets are conducting military operations in the Black Sea. The air exercises have been joined by naval manoeuvres with the ships Saratov and Orsk. Spokesmen for the Russian Black Sea Fleet made it clear that these training exercises "were already planned in advance".

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Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin vía REUTERS - Russian President Vladimir Putin, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Nikolai Yevmenov and Russian Land Forces Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov

These Russian ships face NATO relocations, such as the USS Laboon and USS Ross, both American; the French dive support ship FS Alizé A645; the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen; and the British missile destroyer HMS Defender. Russian forces urged the latter two vessels to move away from the coast, even flying over the ships. Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten called these actions "irresponsible", noting that Evertsen "has every right to sail there".

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no reference to the controversy with the Dutch ship, although he has accused the British and US military of organising a "provocation". However, he said that "they know they cannot win this conflict". "We would be fighting for our own territory, we did not travel thousands of kilometres to reach their borders, they did," Putin said.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian defence ministry referred to these actions as an attempt to achieve better cooperation and "maintain regional peace". Since the crisis in Crimea between Ukraine and Russia, NATO and especially the US have shown their support for Kiev. The Ukrainian territory has since been the scene of tensions between Moscow and Washington, as was the case last April when Russian troops were deployed near the Ukrainian border.

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AP/SAUL LOEB - President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the US-Russia summit at the 'Villa la Grange'.
The Black Sea, a point of confrontation between Russia and NATO

Since the Ukraine crisis, the Black Sea has become a focus of tensions between NATO and Russia. As Mark Simakovsky of the Atlantic Council explains, the Black Sea 'creates the potential for an explosion in tension between the US and Russia'. The Black Sea washes the coasts of several NATO members, including Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Ukraine, on the other hand, is a key ally of the Atlantic Alliance. Georgia, although not a NATO member, became a NATO aspirant in 2017 and since then has conducted joint exercises with NATO countries. These operations, according to former Georgian president Georgui Gajaria, "are a clear example of Georgia's aspirations to move closer to the Euro-Atlantic union". Moreover, as EFE points out, more than 70 per cent of Georgian citizens support NATO membership, even more so after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.

At a summit held in May by the B9, NATO's Eastern European member states, political leaders called for "more NATO presence" in the region to counter "Russia's increasingly destabilising actions"