U.S. Navy Cancels 'Essential' Black Sea Drills Over Russia-Ukraine War

U.S. Navy drills, previously dubbed "essential" in deterring Russian aggression in Europe, have been canceled, officials have confirmed.

Sea Breeze 2022 exercises scheduled this summer in Europe's Black Sea were "canceled due to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine," a spokesperson told Newsweek.

The July 2021 iteration, hosted by the U.S. and Ukraine, involved 32 warships, including the USS Ross Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, from NATO and partners.

Last year, Commander Daniel Marzluff, the U.S. Sixth Fleet's Black Sea Region Engagement Lead, told Newsweek Sea Breeze was "essential" in deterring Russian aggression and asserting U.S. and NATO backing for Ukraine.

US and Italian warships in Black Sea
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross and the Italian Navy Carlo Bergamini-class frigate Virginio Fasan sail in formation during Sea Breeze 2021 in the Black Sea, on July 9, 2021. The 2022 iteration of the annual drills has been canceled due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Damon Grosvenor/U.S. Navy

Planning for Sea Breeze 2022 continued up until the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. A planning meeting took place in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa in January, with a subsequently canceled repeat scheduled for March.

But in an email on Saturday, Captain Tamara Lawrence, of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said a smaller NATO operation involving no U.S. warships was underway instead.

"Naval Forces Europe remains committed to our Black Sea allies and partners, demonstrated by our participation in this year's iteration of the Bulgarian-led NATO exercise Breeze 2022," Lawrence said.

Breeze 2022 kicked off last week, taking place away from the Russia-Ukraine fighting near Bulgarian Black Sea port cities of Varna and Burgas.

The drills will include 24 vessels, five planes, and two helicopters, according to the Bulgarian News Agency. Breeze 2022 is the first large-scale NATO exercise since Russia's latest invasion of Ukraine began.

No U.S. ships will be involved; though U.S. personnel and aircraft will.

This map plots the Black Sea area
Black Sea and Sea of Azov region political map showing major cities. Sea Breeze drills have been canceled in 2022, but smaller Breeze drills are taking place this week near Bulgarian Black Sea port cities of Varna and Burgas. PeterHermesFurian/iStock

Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance planes from Task Force 67 based in Sicily, Italy, and personnel from Task Force 68 in Spain, will take part, the 6th Fleet said last week.

Breeze will involve 1,390 personnel from 10 NATO nations—including Albania, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Turkey.

"We look forward to resuming our work in the Black Sea with Ukraine, a valued partner, when conditions allow," Lawrence added.

The Black Sea quickly became a combat zone as Russia's regional fleet destroyed Ukraine's small navy and began attacking commercial shipping to enforce a blockade of Ukrainian ports. Fighting also took place around the strategic Snake Island, since cleared by and symbolically reclaimed by Ukrainian forces.

Russian strikes on coastal areas, including Odessa, have continued despite a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow vital Russian and Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea.

Update 7/25/22, 11:07 a.m. ET: A map of the Black Sea area has been added.