NATO ships from a host of nations, including Greece, are taking part in an exercise called “Breeze 2021” in the Black Sea.
The Bulgarian-led maritime exercise, which began on July 11 and wraps up today, July 19, involves forces from 14 NATO Allies and partners, including Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Two of four NATO fleets are also participating in Breeze 2021, including Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2).
Breeze 2021 First NATO Black Sea Exercise Since Turkey’s Missile Testing
The exercise aims to enhance interoperability among participating units and strengthen NATO’s readiness in the Black Sea region. It is an annual exercise, dating back to 1996.
Speaking in Varna, Bulgaria, Admiral Emil Eftimov, the Chief of Defense of Bulgaria, stated “The current security situation remains tense in the Black Sea and we have witnessed the rapid change in this situation since 2014.
“So, in order to respond as Allies, we are conducting these exercises and I am very thankful to NATO for the presence of the standing NATO naval group here in the Black Sea.
“So we have Group Two, we have Standing MCM Group Two also here, and this really demonstrates our unity and commitment of Allies to the security of the Black Sea.”
Rear Admiral Kiril Mihaylov, the Commander of the Bulgarian Navy, commented “From the Bulgarian perspective, the presence of Standing Naval Forces in the Black Sea is extremely important because it shows the unity of the Alliance, it shows the coherence and it shows first to the Bulgarian population that we are not abandoned and Bulgaria is a valuable member of NATO, and that’s why it is not only the military and naval side of the exercise and opportunity to train together, but it’s also the political message which this presence sends.”
He added “For Bulgarians, Black Sea, that’s our door to the world. More than half of our economy goes through the Black Sea. Our foreign trade is through the Black Sea.
“For us, keeping the sea lines of communication and keeping commerce alive is vital, that’s why Black Sea is very important for us, not only because of the wonderful sandy beaches and the people enjoying the summertime here, but that’s mainly the economy which makes it important for us.”
In October of 2020, at a port on the Black Sea, Turkey tested its controversial S-400 missile system which it had purchased from Russia against the recommendations of NATO.
According to Reuters and other press who witnessed the missile launch, the launch took place in the Black Sea coastal town of Sinop, where a white column of smoke reached into the sky on Friday afternoon.
Turkey had notified previously that the airspace and nearby waters would be restricted in the near future to allow for missile testing.
If the launch is verified to be of the S-400 missiles, this would be a clear signal to the US that the country has no intention of backing down from the use of the Russian-made weapons system.
American and NATO officials had repeatedly stated that Turkish use of the Russian system by a NATO member would compromise the defense system of the military alliance.
Last year, unable to convince Turkey not to purchase the Russian system, the US suspended Turkey from taking part in its state of the art F-35 aircraft program.
As a sop, the US even offered that Turkey instead purchase its own Patriot missile defense system if the country would only make the S-400 missiles non-operational.
After Turkey rebuffed the offer, it was removed from participation in the fighter jet program.