Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 133

Late next month, U.S. Marines from the Sixth Fleet who are participating in the NATO-sponsored "Sea Breeze-97" exercise will either storm ashore on the Crimean Peninsula, or near Odessa. Or they might just sit tight on their ships. Ukrainian and American officials alike have been giving conflicting versions of just how the assault landing phase of this exercise is going to unfold. On July 4 Ukrainian officials were said to be having second thoughts about the land-based portion of the maneuvers and some Western agencies even reported that it would be canceled. This was confirmed by a Sixth Fleet spokesman but then was denied by the Pentagon. Some sources suggested that the landings would be moved to a training site near Odessa — a location previously used by exercising U.S. Marines. On July 7 a Ukrainian military spokesman confirmed that the Marines would indeed land on the Crimean coast, "but only in order to do reconnaissance, to examine the coast." Yesterday the same spokesman repeated that the exercise would take place as planned near Yevpatoria on the Crimean Peninsula, but added that "changes in the program…are not ruled out." Specifically, he said that some of the training may take place in the Odessa region. (Russian and Western media, July 4-8)

Concerned that the scenario of Sea Breeze-97 is a thinly veiled rehearsal for NATO forces to reinforce Ukraine in the event of Russian aggression or a Russian-sponsored uprising by anti-Ukrainian forces in Crimea, the Russian Navy has turned down a Ukrainian invitation to take part in the maneuvers. The exercise has been a favorite target for Russian politicians and pro-Russian groups in Crimea. NATO marines coming ashore along the Crimean coast could be seen as waving a red flag at these forces. The Ukrainians seem to be setting the stage for moving this most visible irritant to a less provocative location.

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