The Corps has been bouncing all over Europe the past several months, participating in exercises with allies and vowing to boost its presence in Norway to strengthen cold-weather training — moves that have caught the ire of Russia.
And this time, Russia is aghast over a recent U.S. land and maritime exercise in the Black Sea region that kicked off July 9, which involved roughly 50 U.S. Marines and hundreds of sailors. The training took place near Russian-annexed Crimea and contested areas in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian government since 2014.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova at a July 12 Moscow briefing warned of possible “consequences” over the exercise, and described the training evolution as tension-provoking and potentially destabilizing in southeastern Ukraine and the Black Sea region.
“Military activities will take place in direct proximity to the conflict zone in southeastern Ukraine where Ukrainian military units continue to shell peaceful Donbass cities every day despite a ‘bread truce’ announced on July 1 by the Minsk Contact Group,” Zakharova said. “Attempts to flex muscles in these conditions will hardly help stabilize the situation in this region.”
The small Marine contingent from Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, participated in the 18th iteration of exercise Sea Breeze, where they integrated with the Ukrainian military aboard the Shyrokolan Range north of Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
Training at the Shyrokolan range involved day and night live fire, small unit and company-sized attacks, and night defensive operations, according to Marine spokesman Lt. Brett Lazaroff.
“Exercise Sea Breeze 2018 offers a venue to work side-by-side with NATO allies and regional partners to enhance our ability to work together in real-world operations, reassuring our allies and deterring potential aggressors,” Lazaroff told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement Wednesday.
In total, just over 800 U.S. sailors and Marines and nearly 17 countries participated in Sea Breeze, which involved maritime interdiction, anti-submarine operations and amphibious warfare in the Black Sea region.
A U.S. Navy sub-hunting P-8A Poseidon, the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship Mount Whitney and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Porter were also involved in the training.
“We perceive the exercises as an attempt to once again provoke tension in southeastern Ukraine and in the entire Black Sea region. Countries involving Ukraine in dangerous playing with fire games and constantly accusing Russia of threatening regional stability shall be held responsible for possible negative consequences,” Zakharova said at the Moscow briefing.
It’s not the first time Russia has dished out threats following a movement by the Corps.
Following Norway’s decision in June to boost the Corps’ presence in the Scandinavian country to 700 for cold-weather training, Russia warned of consequences and described the move as an attack on Russia.
“But what attack is it possible to talk about today? As is known, top-level Norwegian officials have repeatedly noted that Russia presents no threat,” Zakharova said in June. “Considering the fact that U.S. Marines are deployed in Norway, perhaps it is the United States that has attacked this country?”
The Corps has been active in Europe over the past several months participating in several exercises with NATO allies and friends in the region.
In May, the Corps moved its tanks from cave complexes in Norway to Finland for the first time to participate in a large-scale armor exercises known as Arrow.
And in June a small number of Marines wrapped up exercises in the Baltic Sea region known as BALTOPS and Saber Strike.
Analysts view the Corps’ presence in the region as a deterrent to any potential aggression by Russian forces.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.