The Sea Breeze-97 exercise, held within the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, entered its active phase yesterday in Ukrainian waters off of Crimea. It opened officially on August 24 at the Ukrainian naval bases of Donuzlav- Novoozyornoye. The exercise involves the U.S. destroyer Spruance, landing ship Ponce, and 200 U.S. marines with six armored vehicles; a Turkish frigate and submarine; one Bulgarian and one Romanian combat ship; a Georgian auxiliary vessel; and 18 Ukrainian ships and auxiliary vessels along with 100 Ukrainian marines, nine armored vehicles, and two Ukrainian aircraft. U.S. Navy Capt. Richard Foster is in charge of the exercise’s phase at sea, while Ukrainian general staff chief Col. Gen. Ivan Bizhan is in overall command of the land phase.
According to the latest official version, the exercise scenario presupposes a catastrophic earthquake in an imaginary republic, followed by the formation of a multinational force to provide emergency assistance and to create a security zone for delivery of humanitarian relief. The exercise at sea off Crimea will be followed by landings near Odessa and Mykolayiv. An earlier scenario had been understood to envisage assistance to Ukraine against a Russian-supported secessionist rebellion in Crimea, and it involved multinational force landings in Crimea itself. To defuse local and Russian protests, the initial scenario was changed and the land phases of the exercise were moved outside Crimea.
The changes failed to satisfy Moscow, which has refused repeated invitations to participate in, or at least send observers to, the exercise. Russian officials describe Sea Breeze-97 as a challenge to Russian security interests in the Black Sea. Moscow has, however, stopped short of making this issue into a test of its relations with Kyiv. President Leonid Kuchma for his part stated in Kyiv, on the opening day of Sea Breeze-97, that the exercise promotes regional stability and helps Ukraine develop its national navy.
Top Communist leaders from Crimea and Kyiv on August 24-25 led a 5,000-strong protest demonstration and pickets on the approaches to Donuzlav and Novoozyornoye. The actions combined anti-NATO and pro-Soviet slogans with demands to stop reforms in Ukraine and to change the country’s political leadership. Attendance and public enthusiasm for the protests fell far short of the organizers’ predictions. (Ukrainian and Russian agencies, August 24-26)
Russian-Ukrainian Trade Down 18 Percent.