The opening ceremony for the active phase of Sea Breeze 2016, a joint U.S.-Ukrainian exercise, was held in Odesa on Sunday.
This exercise is taking place as the situation in eastern Ukraine is getting worse, but the exercise is an important part of the reform in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Ukraine's Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said at the ceremony.
"We are seeing the trend towards an escalation of the situation in eastern Ukraine. Each day Donetsk and Luhansk receive supplies of fuel, ammunition, materiel, weapons and equipment. This is a testament to the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine... This is why the exercise, whose active phase begins today, is necessary. At such exercises we learn to defend our land and save the lives of our military," Poltorak said.
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Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough emphasized their governments' commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity and their readiness to further help reform the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
"And this [Sea Breeze 2016] is our response to all ideologists, all curators, all sponsors of the hybrid war. Our response to those who ignore peace, who support terrorism on a state level, who renounce the values of the civilized world," Ukrainian Navy Commander Ihor Voronchenko said at the ceremony, adding that the exercise will help restore quicker the fighting capabilities of the Ukrainian naval forces that pulled out of Crimea.
The Sea Breeze 2016 exercise began on July 18 and will continue through July 30. In all, the exercise will involve up to 4,000 personnel from 16 countries: Ukraine, the U.S., Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Greece, Georgia, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Sweden and Finland. Twenty aircraft and helicopters and over 140 automobile and armored vehicles are also due to be employed.
Read also: Ukraine, U.S. begin military training Sea Breeze 2016 in Black Sea
The sea stage of the drill will involve over 25 ships, boats and supply vessels from Ukraine, the U.S., Turkey, and Romania. The exercise's plan envisages a bigger coastal stage than in the previous years, with a multi-national tactical group conducting an operation in a crisis region in accordance with the NATO standards, involving marines and special forces from Ukraine, the U.S., Moldova, and Georgia.
In addition, troops will practice landing operations, both from the sea and from the air, in Odesa region, artillery operations during anti-landing defense, river crossing with engineering troops' participation and a special operation to provide coastal safety and air support for landing troops.
The Sea Breeze exercise has been held annually since 1997 under a 1993 memorandum of understanding and cooperation on defense and military relations between the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and the U.S. Department of Defense. The exercise aims to train the Ukrainian naval forces and increase their combat readiness on a bilateral basis while being open to other countries.