The Russian and Ukrainian navies completed on November 1 the joint naval exercise Peace Channel-97 in the Black Sea off Crimea. Ukraine’s first deputy defense minister, Col. Gen. Ivan Bizhan, commanded the exercise aboard the Russian flagship Kerch, assisted by Russia’s naval forces chief of staff, Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov. Russian Black Sea Fleet commander, Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, and Ukrainian naval forces commander Rear Adm. Mikhailo Yezhel directly commanded their respective ships. The two countries’ defense ministers, Gen. Igor Sergeev and Col. Gen. Oleksandr Kuzmuk, watched the concluding phase of the exercise.
The scenario envisaged naval operations in support of a peacekeeping operation in country "X-landia" affected by natural disaster and civil disorders. According to initial plans, the two fleets were to have practiced defense against air and submarine attacks, creating safe zones and corridors at sea, rescuing ships in distress, and escorting cargo convoys. It is unclear how many of these tasks were actually performed. Each side financed its own participation in the exercise. Eight foreign reconnaissance planes and one submarine were spotted watching the exercise.
Russian statements tended to portray the exercise as focusing on combat tasks, differing from the pattern set by NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, and reflecting an incipient Russian-Ukrainian "strategic cooperation" in the Black Sea — as Kuroyedov put it — "without any third countries." By contrast, Ukrainian statements tended to stress purely peacekeeping aspects of the exercise, its conformity to the PfP pattern, and the plan to hold a Sea Breeze-98 exercise in Ukrainian waters with navies of NATO member and aspirant countries, as a follow-up to Sea Breeze-97. Bizhan explicitly added that Peace Channel-97 "should not be seen as a start of joint Russian-Ukrainian actions in the Black Sea." Kyiv described the exercise as marking the completion of the partition of the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet, the emergence of a Ukrainian navy, and a desirable "normalization" of Russian-Ukrainian naval relations. (UNIAN, DINAU, Russian agencies, October 31-November 2)
Elchibey Returns to Baku Unreconstructed.