July 5 (UPI) -- NATO ships entered the Black Sea to conduct routine patrols and participate in a massive show of force exercise in Ukraine.
Led by the flagship HMCS Toronto, a Royal Canadian Navy frigate, the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two arrived at the Black Sea on Wednesday. They were joined by the Turkish frigate TCG Turgutris, the British frigate HMS Duncan and the Romanian frigate ROS Regele Ferdinand, all on their way to Sea Breeze 2019, a military exercise involving 32 warships, 24 aircraft and about 3,000 troops from 19 countries.
The event is sponsored by the United States and Ukraine. Although not a NATO member, "Ukraine is a highly valued partner to NATO, contributing to NATO operations and regularly exercising together in a demonstration of Ukraine's strong commitment to international security," a NATO statement said.
The Russian military has said it is monitoring the exercise and has voiced concern about previous NATO drills near its borders.
"Patrolling the Black Sea is a great way to re-assemble the Group and integrate under new leadership," said Commodore Josee Kurtz, captain of the HMCS Toronto.
"This is an excellent opportunity for our sailors to hone their skills, practice working together, while also reinforcing the strong NATO bonds that link our allied and partner nations together."