The Guardian • Issue #1968

NATO “testing the waters” with Russia in the Black Sea

On 23rd June, the British warship HMS Defender entered the territorial waters of Crimea, sparking a response of two warning shots from a patrol ship and four bombs dropped by a Russian Navy Su-24M jet. London officially declared that “no warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender,” and the ship was simply “conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.”

However, Russian state media released a video showing a coast guard vessel warning the HMS Defender that it violated its state border and fired warning shots at the British warship, refuting London’s assertions about the encounter. Moreover, even Jonathan Beale, a military correspondent on board the destroyer, called this “innocent passage” a “deliberate move to make a point to Russia.” This is made blatantly obvious with the launch of NATO’s largest operation in the Black Sea, Exercise Sea Breeze, beginning less than a week after the confrontation.


The Black Sea has been a strategic point of US pressure in its attempts to encircle Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This escalated radically after 2014, when the US and EU supported the far-right Euro maiden coup in Kiev, that toppled the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovich. The coup triggered an ongoing civil war in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The UK, as well as the entirety of NATO that saw Crimea legally reconnected to Russia. Historically Crimea was a Russian peninsula, a strategically vital region, and was signed over to Kiev in 1954 while both countries were part of the USSR. In February, the Ukrainian government announced plans to “recover Crimea” and the Donbass, provoking a major military crisis in the region.


The Russian government foresaw the threat and requested Sea Breeze to be cancelled this year through its Washington embassy on the day before the incident due to the high risk of military confrontation. This was ignored. The operation, the largest in its history, will proceed for 2 weeks after the provocation and involve 32 warships, 40 aircraft, and 5,000 servicemen from 17 NATO member states, as well as alliance partners. Military personnel from 32 countries are expected to participate.

Onboard the HMS Defender happened to be senior Ukrainian and British government officials, including Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense and the British Minister for Defence Procurement. It is fascinating that such high-ranked representatives simultaneously happened to be on the particular vessel that breached Russian maritime border claims. But who could blame them? Sevastopol is wonderful this time of year.

Whilst in such good company, they also signed a major bilateral naval agreement that day that provides for substantial British military aid for the Ukrainian navy and the creation of new naval bases in the Black Sea.

The military cooperation of Ukraine with NATO countries continues to grow. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu noted that seven joint military exercises with the countries of the alliance are planned in Ukraine in 2021 alone.

Meanwhile, Russia’s military, including destroyers and fighter jets, also carried out military exercises the 19th of June within 60km of Hawaii. According to the Daily Mail, these were the “largest war games since [the] Cold War” and involved “at least 20 Russian warships, submarines, and support vessels flanked by 20 fighter jets.” The exchange of pleasantries between the US and Russia creates the concern that the Putin/Biden summit may not have been particularly helpful for establishing even short-term peace.

The tug-of-war between different forces in the Black Sea could result in tragedy for the whole world, as the two main nuclear weapon producers continue to clash in interest – which is not the prosperity and safety of the working class.

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