Just 100 miles from Ukraine, NATO special forces conduct training exercises on the Black Sea

Their mission? Stops a ship occupied by insurgents who have disrupted trade in the region. To be successful, they are using not only the helicopter, but four rigid inflatable boats to board the ship.

“The insertion of the helicopter and the boat, their synchronization is very important for all teams to board the ship at the exact time they should,” a special forces group leader told CNN, who cannot be appointed for security reasons.

Working with other nations adds an extra level of difficulty, but for this Romanian service member all the formative years are paying off. “This isn’t the first or second time we’ve worked with [the US]”he said.” We train continuously with the United States, it was very simple. ”

The scenario is false, but for Romania the disturbances to its trade routes on the Black Sea are very real, especially as Russia continues to project strength into the region and as its war on Ukraine, now in its third month, is raging.

The war has already reached the border of Romania’s exclusive economic zone, at Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island. The small but strategic landmass, less than 30 miles off the coast of Romania, was the scene of bitter battles and bombings.

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NATO says it has been trying to support Ukraine, which is not an alliance member, while also trying to prevent the conflict from spreading to other countries in the region, an alliance special forces official told CNN. . Above all, NATO’s primary focus continues to be to protect its member countries, he said.

“[These exercises are] even more important now, “the official said, referring to the potential of the conflict extending beyond Ukraine’s borders.” It is even more important that you continue (them), that you do not show that you are scared. ”

The drills are part of the Trojan Footprint, which involves 30 nations and more than 3,300 special and conventional forces, according to the official. Although Ukraine does not participate this year, many of the exercises take place in areas of the country, close to Russian territory. But the drills – and their location – aren’t new: Ukraine participated in 2021 and was supposed to be involved this year before the Russian invasion began in February.

Also absent this year is Russia which, although not officially invited to supervise the exercise, usually overshadows the NATO ships and units operating in the area.

“You can always confidently assume that someone is watching you,” the official said. “Right now they are engaged in warfare”, but we should be even more attentive to “operational security”.

Officials say training is more important now, especially against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Monday’s exercise took place as Russian troops marched through Moscow’s Red Square, celebrating Victory Day, marking Soviet and Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II – and a national celebration of Russia’s military achievements. .

Despite the war and heightened tensions with Moscow, the official says the risk of an escalation caused by the exercises is worth taking.

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“You don’t back down just because there is a crisis,” he said, explaining that the background of the war makes this year’s exercises unique.

“You could do the same operation in the Baltic Sea: what is different (this year) is (the) geopolitical situation,” the official said, adding that “a miscalculation can always lead to something, but the risk of not doing nothing is worse than the risk of doing it. “

A commander of the Romanian special forces task force, who coordinated the exercise and who cannot be named for security reasons, shared a similar view.

He told CNN: “We do what we did last year, two years ago and so on.” Our goal is just to train, so it doesn’t matter who or what the challenge is. “It is important in the level of training you achieve.”

But the commander admitted that the conflict in Ukraine plays into their calculations, adding that the war is real and therefore they are prepared for anything.