Protesters Decry Ukraine Exercises

ReutersProtesters struggling with police at an anti-NATO rally Monday in Odessa.
KIEV -- U.S.-Ukrainian military exercises began on the Black Sea on Monday amid anti-NATO protests that demonstrated the deep hostility among some people toward the Western military bloc.

The two-week Sea Breeze exercises also involve 15 other countries, including NATO members. The purpose is to practice for multinational peacekeeping operations. Ukrainian leaders who favor joining NATO also hope the drills will help bring their country closer NATO and Western military standards.

The exercises will involve warships, planes, helicopters, armored vehicles and various kinds of troops.

Anti-NATO protesters have set up camps in the area along the Black Sea coast and are planning rallies.

Potential NATO membership is a highly divisive issue in Ukraine.

President Viktor Yushchenko and other leaders asked NATO in January to grant the nation a road map to joining the alliance, leading to weeks of protests in parliament and noisy rallies on the streets.

The Sea Breeze drills have been taking place annually since back in 1997.

In 2006, protests forced U.S. Marine reservists who came to prepare for the exercises to leave without carrying out their mission. The maneuvers were later canceled because of the redeployment of a U.S. naval vessel to assist in the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon.