Tensions between Russia and the West are still soaring after the June 23rd incident with Britain’s HMS Defender wherein the Russian side fired “warning shots” and shadowed the destroyer which had come near Crimea with no less than 20 Russian aircraft and two ships. That’s why Russia’s new aerial drills over the Black Sea present another dangerous opportunity for the next potential “close call” incident which could easily trigger direct conflict.
Russian fighters are now engaged in their own drills at a moment NATO’s large-scale Sea Breeze 2021 exercises are underway in waters below. Russia’s Black Sea fleet made the announcement confirming the active exercises on Saturday.
Russian reconnaissance aircraft which specialize in sea surveillance are also said to be active. No doubt they are further monitoring the some 40 warships currently taking part in the nearby NATO exercises, which has an estimated 4,000 personnel as part of what NATO has hailed as its largest naval drill in two decades.
The official Russian military statement was reported in TASS as follows:
“Plane crews of the Black Sea fleet’s naval aviation and air defense units, jointly with the Southern Military District’s aviation, carried out training flights above the Black Sea, practicing missile and bomb attacks on vessels of a notional enemy. The Black Sea fleet’s naval aviation was represented by Su-30SM multirole fighter jets and Su-24M front-line bombers, the Southern Military District – by Su-34 fighter bombers and Su-27 air superiority fighter jets,” the statement says.
The Russian press report further highlighted Ukraine’s controversial involvement in the NATO drills. The Kremlin has long condemned Kiev’s growing closeness to NATO ‘partnership’ and recent requests seeking a “path to membership”, which Russia has in the past warned would trigger certain war.
— Exercise Sea Breeze (@ExSeaBreeze) July 2, 2021
“At the moment, an international naval exercise codenamed Sea Breeze-2021 is being held in the Black Sea with NATO countries and Ukraine taking part,” TASS wrote, while also emphasizing that Russian aircraft “carried out training flights above the Black Sea amid the Sea Breeze 2021 exercises of NATO and its partners in the region.”
As the rapidly unfolded events of last week demonstrate, with these rival military drills happening in such close proximity near contested waters, there remains very high risk for another live fire incident, particularly should NATO vessels or planes get too close to Russia-claimed waters and coastline.