Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 198

The NATO-sponsored Sea Breeze-98 exercise began yesterday in Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa, to continue in waters off nearby Pivdenny and at Shiroky Lan training range near Mikolayiv until November 4. Six NATO countries and the five non-NATO countries of the Black Sea are participating. The exercise involves approximately 4,500 sailors and soldiers, including 1,500 Ukrainians; some thirty ships, including fourteen Ukrainian ones; more than thirty aircraft and helicopters, and some thirty armored vehicles. The United States participates with two warships from the Sixth Fleet and more than 300 marines and Special Forces troops. The United States had a major role in planning the exercise and financed most of the expenses. Ukraine’s First Deputy Defense Minister, Colonel-General Ivan Bizhan, is in overall command of the exercise.

Sea Breeze-98 is the second exercise of this type, and the first with Russian participation. Last year Russia turned down the invitation to Sea Breeze-97 and denounced its scenario, on the basis of its implication that NATO would support Ukraine against a Russian-backed rebellion in Crimea. The maritime part of that exercise was held in the vicinity of Sevastopol in the summer season, almost inviting protest demonstrations from local Russian communists.

This year’s scenario, timing and location have been changed in order to avoid another public-relations row and to secure Moscow’s participation. Sea Breeze-98 rehearses a UN-authorized, NATO-led response to a devastating earthquake superimposed on a political crisis and armed clashes in the “Littoral Republic.” The response would seem to focus on rescue operations, delivery of humanitarian assistance, creation of safe zones and embargo enforcement against arms deliveries.

Ukrainian leftist parties made a last-minute attempt to thwart Sea Breeze-98. On October 23 in the Verkhovna Rada, the Communists, Socialists and Hromada led the challenge by claiming that an exercise of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory required parliamentary consent. With 191 votes in favor, the motion fell short of the simple majority of 226 (Western agencies, Dinau, Unian, October 23-26). –VS