Crimean parliament vetoes US naval exercise in Black Sea

Crimean parliament vetoes US naval exercise in Black Sea Kiev - The parliament of the Ukrainian province of Crimea on Wednesday voted against allowing planned US naval manoeuvres in the Black Sea, the Interfax news agency reported.

The Crimean parliament in voted 61 in favour of a motion declaring the US Navy-led "Sea Breeze" 2009 manoeuvres "impermissable" - laying the legal grounds for a possible ban.

Nine members of Crimea's 91-member parliament opposed the motion, whilst the national government in Kiev has signalled it expects the exercise to go ahead as planned.

Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula Crimea is home to a majority of ethnic Russians, and minorities of ethnic Tartars and Ukrainians.

The US-financed "Sea Breeze" exercises have been held every summer since 1997, with US and Ukrainian naval and marine forces the main participants.

A majority of Crimea's residents oppose the yearly air, land, and sea operations believing they constitute a first step towards making Ukraine a member of NATO.

The Crimean parliament resolution cited the military operations' possible impact on the regionally-important summer tourism industry, as a second reason the exercise should be banned.

Ukraine's national government nonetheless signaled its intent to participate in the training, sending three warships to sea on Wednesday for warm-up manoeuvres prior to the exercises.

Around 20 NATO officials will be on hand to observe the Ukrainian crews as they practise transferring supplies while at sea, towing a damaged vessel, combat manoeuvres, and defences against nuclear, chemical and biological weapons attack, a Ukrainian navy spokesman said.

A Ukrainian frigate, corvette, amphibious assault ship, reconnaissance aircraft and naval helicopter were involved in the warm-up exercises.

Ukraine's public opinion is mostly against closer links between Kiev NATO, as previous NATO operations in Serbia and the current war in Afghanistan are seen as aggressive military operations.

But Ukraine's pro-Europe government strongly supports closer relations with NATO, as a way of eventually integrating Ukraine with the European Union.

Ukraine's cash-strapped military is also generally in favour of training with NATO forces, as without NATO cash and fuel contributions Ukrainian warships would lack the funds to go to sea, and combat aircraft to conduct training flights.

The 2009 "Sea Breeze" manoeuvres plan multi-national training including firing exercises and amphibious operations.

Protestors during last year's exercises hindered the exercises by blocking the main entrances to two Crimean naval ports, preventing the delivery of military supplies. (dpa)