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US, Ukraine launch joint maritime exercises in Black Sea

‘Ukrainian and American naval forces are taking part in joint maritime drills dubbed Sea Breeze 2014, which began on Monday in the northwestern part of the Black Sea and will last till September 10.

“Today in the north-west part of the Black Sea, we are beginning the joint Navy exercises of Ukraine and the US, known as ‘Sea Breeze 2014’. The exercises will continue until September 10. The aim is to set up safety measures in areas dangerous to ships,” Colonel Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters as cited by AP.

The objective of the exercises is “an international operation on establishing and securing a maritime safety zone in a crisis area,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said earlier. The drills are part of a program for Kiev-Washington defense cooperation in 2014 and were approved by a presidential decree on March 25, it added.

The Sea Breeze exercises come just three days after a peace deal was reached between Kiev and rebel troops following months of bloody fighting. The US and NATO repeatedly accused Russia of “invading Ukraine,” supporting “pro-Russian separatists” and deepening the crisis. However, no convincing evidence has been provided for such statements.

Besides Ukraine and the US, the exercise in the Black Sea will involve Spain, Canada, Romania and Turkey, according to the Defense Ministry in Kiev. Georgia, Norway, Sweden and France sent monitors. A total of 12 ships and supply vessels – including seven Ukrainian ships – as well as planes and helicopters will participate in the drills.

According to the US Navy, the Sea Breeze will include “three ships from Standing NATO Maritime Group TWO Task Unit 02 (SNMG2 TU.02), the Canadian Halifax-class frigate HMCS Toronto (FFH 333), Spanish frigate ESPS Almirante Juan De Borbon and Romanian frigate ROS Regele Ferdinand,” it said in a statement on Monday.

As part of maneuvers, the participants will drill missions to monitor civilian ships navigating in certain areas, searching for rule-breaking ships, conducting inspection operations and helping vessels in distress.

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The American guided missile destroyer, the USS Ross, hosted the Sea Breeze 2014 opening ceremony on Monday.

“We will remain focused on improving interoperability while promoting regional stability and maritime security; strengthening international military partnering; and fostering trust among our partners and allies,” said Captain James Aiken, exercise director, as cited by the US Navy 6th Fleet website.

It is the first time that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) has taken part in Sea Breeze, “with this year’s exercise being the 17th iteration of what is considered the largest annual multinational maritime exercise held in the Black Sea,” the press service said in a statement.

The vessel entered the Black Sea last week, when violent confrontation between Kiev troops and rebels in Ukraine was still continuing.

Washington said it sent its warship to the region “to promote peace and stability.”Ross’ presence in the Black Sea “serves to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to strengthening the collective security of NATO allies and partners in the region,” the US Navy said.

READ ALSO: ‘Promoting peace and stability’: NATO warships enter Black Sea

Under the Montreux Convention of 1936, warships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the Black Sea for no longer than 21 days. It also stipulates that the maximum deadweight of a non-regional warship in the area should not exceed 45,000 tons.

NATO warships have been operating in the area since this spring, when tensions started escalating between Kiev forces and rebels in eastern Ukraine. Despite the three-week limit, the alliance has managed to secure its presence in the area by constantly rotating warships there.’

Report by RT