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Announced Military Exercises in the Black Sea: A New Unnecessary Provocation or Escalation of Conflict?

NATO navy ships in the Black Sea in 2016 (photo: Getty)

Given that the land war in the southeast of Ukraine has come to a stalemate long ago, without the promised victory by Ukrainian politicians, their leadership has fully focused on the hybrid war against Russia. Without reaching victory and not wanting to recognize the factual situation, the Ukrainian authorities in coordination with the Western countries increased tensions with various provocations, thus showing the conflict as opened to the international community. The absurdity of such decisions is primarily reflected in the fact that these actions do not have any military-political starting point, other than raising tensions and making new media sensations that will not change the situation on the ground.

One of the biggest provocations by the Ukrainian side was the attempted passage of their armed ships under the Crimean Bridge, which ended with the capture of 24 crew members by the armed forces of the Russian Federation. An attempt to penetrate Russian territorial waters ended with Russia's affirmation of its maritime sovereignty, and the incident served the Ukrainian authorities and their Western allies as a tool for further media escalation and propaganda against Russia.

Plans for further provocation were obviously not put out of the table. One of confirmations of this is the announced naval exercise of the NATO forces and the Ukrainian Navy in Black Sea, scheduled for June and July. According to the announcements of Ukraine and the United States, 900 naval troops, 30 ships and 30 aircraft will participate in the exercise. Participation was confirmed by the United Kingdom, Canada, Georgia, Denmark, Moldova, Norway and Poland.

On the occasion of the announcement of upcoming exercises, a large international conference was held in Sofia on 5-6 June, organized by the Black Sea Institute from Burgas. The conference was attended by representatives of the European Parliament, members of the Bulgarian Parliament, as well as leading experts from Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, Norway, Romania and Turkey. The conclusion of participants was that it is necessary to calm down the passions and tensions in the Black Sea. Unfortunately, some countries like the United States and the United Kingdom continue to send their ships to the Black Sea region, in order to keep up the tension before the forthcoming Sea Breeze exercises.

However, not all of the European leaders agree with pouring oil on the fire. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel opposes the sending of German ships to the Black Sea, unlike German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen who tend to obey the American demands.

Taking into account all the above, the question arises: what the US and Ukraine want to achieve with a new potential incident? There are several possibilities. The Ukrainian Navy itself does not pose any threat to the Russian Navy, so a reluctant attempt to pass under the Crimean Bridge without American protection does not make any sense. A possible attempt of joint passage with NATO forces could aim at humiliating Russia on the international level, but only in case that Moscow misses a chance to confirm its military and legal supremacy over the region.

It is also quite possible that Russia will go to concessions and expand the framework of Minsk Peace Agreement to the demilitarization of the Azov Sea, under condition that the mediator is the European Union, a milder player (compared to the United States) which is in no way interested in further escalation of the conflict that could jeopardize the sea transit from the Black Sea. Furthermore, if new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants to continue with European integration, he will have to act synergically with the EU. The next month will reveal the meaning of the announced events in the Black Sea region.