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Projection and messaging – A stiffening Sea Breeze

July 25, 2016

Prior to the active phase of Sea Breeze 2016, the 24th July saw the USS Ross take its turn in hosting a gathering of Ukrainian politicians (both national and local), a diverse collection of diplomats, military people from assorted international commands, think tankers et al.

Sea Breeze is a long standing exercise in the Black Sea involving the Ukrainian Navy.

It has become an annual event that a US naval vessel hosts canapes and drinkies whilst docked in Odessa during Sea Breeze exercises.  This blog is now a long standing annual Sea Breeze attendee having attended similar functions on the Donald Cook, USS Porter etc (once on a State Dept “distro list” there’s no getting off – fortunately as far as this blog is concerned for the “distro list” is not restricted to Sea Breeze invitations).

Thus having attended such events often it is easy to become somewhat nonchalant about the messaging US military hardware being docked in Odessa and conducting various drills at sea sends.  Military projection is part of the messaging of course – all Sea Breeze exercises are, notwithstanding their training and interoperability mission.

Nevertheless it can become much of a muchness if care is not taken to remind oneself of the necessity of the message being sent.  Employing a rather poor metaphor, the pitch, the tone and the volume historically being somewhat consistent around these exercises it is easy to become accustomed to it like the background noise of the television or radio.

This year however things feel different.

Indeed this year things are different.

Instead of one US naval ship docked in Odessa, there are two – for the first time.

The USS Ross is moored along side the USS Whidbey Island, forming part of a 14 nation, 26 vessel, 20 plane and helicopter, 50 military “equipment unit” and 4,000 soldier exercise.

Stern/aft of the USS Whidbey Island

Stern/aft of the USS Whidbey Island

This year is different because the USS Whidbey Island is a landing craft – and on Wednesday 27th Ukrainian and American troops will indeed be making amphibious landings, together with parachute drops together.

A somewhat significantly different message is being sent than the usual sub tracking/chasing, mine clearing etc exercises of past Sea Breezes – necessary as those exercises are.

Moreover, of all the considerable coastline Odessa has to offer to practice the joint US/Ukrainian amphibious landings and parachute drops, the chosen part of the coastline is that of the southwest of the Oblast – “Bessarabia” – immediately adjacent to the Kremlin controlled enclave of Transnistria in Moldova.

Amphibious landings in, and significant parachute drops on “Bessarabia” will send messages to several different recipients – as it is clearly designed to do.

There is the obvious and clear messaging to those within Transnistria – and beyond to the Kremlin – in deliberately choosing the “Bessarabian” coastline.

A reader can only ponder what MP (and uncrowned Tsar of Bessarabia) Anton Kisse thinks of such events occurring on what is very much perceived as his undisputed fiefdom – a fiefdom over which many in 2014 had serious “separatist” (read Kremlin instigated and supported) concerns.  Be those concerns unwarranted or otherwise, in some quarters those concerns are yet to abate.  A wily politician may, if inclined, see an unhealthy leverage in such circumstances.

It is perhaps worth pondering whether or not the simultaneously running exercise “South Wind”, aimed at testing the planning and management capabilities in case of Martial Law is running in parallel, or as a “bolt on” (officially or otherwise), or is an entirely unconnected affair.  There would be numerous message recipients internal and external of Ukraine if there became a perception of a link – real or otherwise – between the two simultaneously timed exercises.

Whatever the case, having experienced the chit chat and atmosphere circulating among the canapes and drinkies of many historical Sea Breeze exercises, it is quite clear that this year is different.  This year is very much about messaging – and messaging several recipients at different levels.

The messaging is meant to be blunt, clear and unambiguous – and is very likely to be received that way.

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