Ukrainians protest against NATO exercises

Despite a ban on anti-NATO protests in Ukraine, there's growing anger among locals around the city of Odessa, who are demonstrating against a naval exercise in the area. People say the presence of American troops will hurt relations with Russia.

More than 14 navies, including the U.S. and Ukraine, are taking part in the military exercise known as Sea Breeze. Odessa,  a major seaport on the Black Sea and Ukraine’s largest port,  has been hosting the Sea Breeze for a number of years in the last decade, and every time the local population held protests against it.

Nikolay Kovalev came to Odessa to protest against NATO’s expansion into Ukraine. “They want to attack us, to conquer us. If they arrived on a peace-keeping mission, why did they bring weapons with them? They should have come to teach, train and help, not fight,” he claims.  

Anti-NATO protests are regularly staged by the communists, socialists and the Russian Orthodox groups in Ukraine. Nearly 70 % of the country’s population rejects the president’s goal to join the alliance. And with a snap election called for September, the Sea Breeze involving NATO countries is growing in controversy.

The Communist Party chief arrived from Kiev to denounce both the exercise and President Viktor Yushchenko.

The progressive Socialist party pitched their tents on the very field which is likely to be used for maneuvers.

Aleksandr Ogorodnikov, a former fighter pilot who served in Cuba on a Soviet peace-keeping mission, says, “Analysts predict that the Russian Army's combat strength and performance will decline between 2008 and 2010. This would be an appropriate time for an intervention. The United States would probably refrain from direct action, yet it might provoke another country into a military operation against Russia”.

Aleksandr says they set up their camp to prevent the Dropshot plan, which was devised by the United States in the 50’s in case of war with the USSR. According to declassified files, this part of the Black Sea coast could have been used as a military base.

The protesters say they are afraid to be caught in the crossfire between Russia and the U.S.

The first stage of the exercises on how to handle air raids, rescue operations and other potential challenges will be held here in these fields.

For the countries-participants the Sera Breeze is a team-building event, the exercises on how to handle air raids, rescue operations and other potential challenges. For the protesters, however, it is the start of foreign expansion.