During a work visit to Odessa, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the military and strategic situation in the Black Sea region has been very tense.
“The military and strategic situation in the Black Sea region is currently, unfortunately, very tense, following the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation – the aggressor state, which was clearly set out in the concluding documents of the NATO summit which Ukraine also took part in,” the president said.
“After the illegal annexation of Crimea, we have seen a sharp escalation in tension. Russia has drastically increased its military groups in the illegally occupied territory. For the first time, combat aircraft, the latest missile and anti-air systems have been deployed there. We have seen the composition of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is illegally stationed in annexed Ukrainian Sevastopol, reinforced with submarines and new military vessels armed with long-range sea-based missiles,” Poroshenko added. He also noted that there has been a significant increase in the aggressor-state’s naval presence in the Sea of Azov.
The president drew attention to the fact that Russia has begun to illegally detain and inspect both Ukrainian and foreign ships traveling to the Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.
“This is being done in order to block Ukraine in the Sea of Azov, to escalate tension, and possibly to carry out a military attack operation on Mariupol, where Ukraine’s black metallurgy products are exported, or attacks on other Azov Sea ports,” Poroshenko observed.
The president emphasized the necessity of improving the combat readiness of the Ukrainian Navy, and of cooperating with partners from NATO states and security allies in the Black Sea region.
The annual joint Ukraine-US “Sea Breeze 2018” exercise began in Odessa on July 9. The drills will be held in the Odessa and Mykolaiv provinces, as well as training areas in the north-west of the Black Sea. The current drills are themed “Carrying out a national naval operation on security in a crisis region”.
The Sea Breeze series of drills have been held annually since 1997, in order to train and improve the combat readiness of the Ukrainian Navy. The drills primarily involve the US and Ukraine, but they are also open to other countries. In 2016, one of the stages of the Sea Breeze took place on the Danube for the first time.
Following the start of the exercise this year, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it considers the exercise “an attempt to provoke tension” in south-eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea.
Earlier NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov discussed the deterioration of the situation in the Sea of Azov with British Ambassador Judith Gough with respect to the increased Russian military presence there. Turchynov said he is confident that the Joint Forces are ready to react adequately to any provocation. Turchynov also expressed the hope that the following week parliament would pass the bill “On national security”.
Poroshenko later discussed threats created by Russia in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov while at the Ukraine-EU summit.