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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Stays Away From Black Sea NATO Exercises

KIEV -- Ukraine begins unprecedented 10-day naval exercises with NATO and several former communist nations on Monday but Russia plans to stay away.

Over 50 warships from 10 NATO countries, including the United States, Germany and Britain, will join the maneuvers near the Black Sea port of Odessa in southern Ukraine.

"The Cooperative Partner-2000 naval exercise is the largest such event since Ukraine's independence and is extremely important for mutual understanding," said Ukrainian navy spokesman Mykola Savchenko by telephone from Odessa.

Savchenko said around 5,500 Ukrainian servicemen would take part in the action, imitating landing, rescue and peacekeeping operations.

NATO troops at the exercises will be accompanied by units from Ukraine and several other former communist states cooperating with the alliance within its Partnership for Peace program.

But amid the official excitement and hectic preparations for the event, the much-discussed exercises will be somewhat soured by Russia's absence. Savchenko said Russia ignored invitations to take part in the exercises.

"We do not understand why Moscow has given no answer. This is just a peacekeeping exercise without any political context," he said.

A spokesman for Russia's Black Sea Fleet said Russia would not attend the exercises even as an observer.

"This decision has been taken in Moscow," said Sergei Kukhanev by telephone from Sevastopol.