The U.S.-NATO Sea Breeze-2021 exercise, with the participation of Ukraine and other regional states, reflects the growing confrontation between the West and Russia, as well as the armed provocations aimed at pressuring Moscow. The annual Sea Breeze-2021 exercise between the U.S., Ukraine, and 30 other countries began on June 28 in the northwestern Black Sea and will end on July 10. The exercise involves 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 5,000 troops. In Kiev, these exercises have been called the “greatest” of all time. However, there are on average only 80 military personnel from each participating country as half of the 5,000 are Ukrainians.
Keeping in mind the small number of participating personnel from each country, even most of the ships involved are of low quality – with the exception of the American flagship USS Ross, that has up to 56 Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of 1,600 kilometers, and the fairly modern British Defender frigate that has air defense systems. The Ukrainian fleet is made up of mostly obsolete Soviet-era ships.
It is recalled that the Defender violated Russian maritime sovereignty in late June and Britain was so embarrassed by the event that it even denied that the Russian fleet reacted strongly by firing warning artillery shots and warning bombs. Essentially, Moscow confirmed its readiness for a military confrontation with NATO to defend its sovereignty, not in words, but with live fire. From Kiev’s perspective, this is disastrous since it demonstrated that Moscow will not be intimidated in matters of national security.
On June 24, only a day after the Defender was humiliated, the Dutch frigate Evertsen thought it could do better than the British and tried to go to the Kerch Strait, but Russian Su-30 fighter jets and Su-24 bombers took to the air, flying a safe distance near the Dutch frigate, forcing it to change course. According to the Dutch, Russian planes had “intimidated” Evertsen’s crew for several hours with simulated attacks and even malfunctioned their electronic equipment.
On June 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “during a multifaceted provocation,” a U.S. reconnaissance plane was operating off the coast of Crimea alongside the Defender. The Russian president emphasized: “We are fighting for our territory, for our future […] they have come to our borders and entered our territorial sea.”
In face of this immense pressure, Russia’s naval and air forces are increasing their activities by holding unprecedented missile exercises in the Mediterranean, as well as the Pacific Ocean near the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. If the purpose of the Defender, Evertsen and Sea Breeze-2021, as well as the many previous provocations was to intimidate Russia, it has had the opposite effect as now the Russian military is looking beyond its traditional zones of influence and interest to demonstrate that it will defend its sovereignty. For the first time in modern history, the Russian Pacific fleet conducted large-scale exercises in the central Pacific region, only about 55 kilometers away from Hawaii. In the exercises, the Russian navy simulated the destruction of an enemy group.
American magazine Military Watch noted that Russia has the potential to strike NATO’s least protected southern flank due to the deployment of the MiG-31K at Khmeimim Air Base in Syria’s Latakia province. However, the Russian Federation is not looking for conflict despite the immense pressure it faces.
At the IX International Security Conference in Moscow on June 23, Putin, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov issued a “triple” warning about a major war and said: “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in response to the use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, as well as in the case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons where the existence of the state is threatened.” On the same day, the United Nations increased the risk of nuclear war.
If the purpose of Sea Breeze-2021 is to intimidate and/or contain Russia, it has spectacularly failed as it will only harden Russia’s resolve to defend its sovereignty against maligned forces. Although Kiev will see this as some kind of victory and demonstration against Russia, the fact that so few personnel from each participating country are involved in the exercise displays that there is mostly a disinterest among these countries to seriously go to war with Russia for the sake of Ukraine. Instead, most countries involved in the Sea Breeze-2021 exercise are only participating for the sake of fulfilling their duties as NATO member states. But as Russia has clearly announced, it will only retaliate if it is first attacked, thus ensuring that Article 5 on collective defense of NATO cannot be activated against it.