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17 Jul, 2008 05:05

Protests dog NATO-Ukraine war games

Fresh protests in Ukraine have hit the NATO-led naval exercise underway in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimean peninsula. The two week exercise, known as Sea Breeze, involves 17 countries that want to build co-ope

But it’s attracted controversy, and sporadic opposition, from Ukrainians who are against the country’s plans to join NATO.

But at the site of the exercise itself, in waters next to Russia's Black Sea fleet, the protests have done little to trouble the crew of most of the servicemen taking part.

A Ukrainian flag on a U.S. vessel is the unusual sight on board the USS McFaul, one of the youngest destroyers in the American fleet, which has docked at Odessa's harbour.

The battleship – equipped with multiple guns, torpedoes, two rocket-launching systems and manned by several hundred men- is made for combat operations at sea. But it has come to the Ukrainian port on a peaceful mission.

Mark Postill, Command Systems Officer on USS McFaul, says: “The exercise is based on an evacuation, basically to help people in different countries, either evacuate or support them in case of natural disasters – floods or hurricanes.”

The experienced crew immediately got down to what they came for, putting on the first practical display of the military exercise. Fortunately, they've never had to deal with this situation for real: extinguishing a fire on a damaged helicopter and rescuing an injured pilot.

Their colleagues from 15 countries who were also on board, including Turkey, France and Greece, seemed impressed.

Something that would hardly have been possible three or four decades ago, the fleet of the hosts stands just several hundred meters away from USS McFaul. The Ukrainians have yet to start their practical exercises but are now getting ready to begin.

Their ships might not be as big or well equipped as the NATO vessels, but the crews insist they can hold their own.

Young sailor Dmitry Livak said: “We’ve got guided missiles and torpedo launchers. These weapons look good and they are really powerful. In fact, the whole ship is a weapon”.