It is also the third such visit since December 2018, with NATO’s three most powerful maritime forces – the US, the UK and France – all having now sent a warship into Ukrainian waters and a Ukrainian port.
Observers and experts continue to state that such visits are an important gesture, signaling that the 29-member NATO Alliance is committed to Ukraine’s coastal security and territorial integrity, as well as freedom of navigation throughout the Black and Azov seas.
The French warship, a mine-hunting reconnaissance vessel named Capricorne, is expected to stay until March 26.
Capricorne entered the Black Sea on March 21 and comes at an important time for Ukraine, ten days before the country’s 2019 presidential election, to be held on March 31.
According to an official statement of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the French warship came to Odesa to take part in “joint PASSEX training to increase interoperability, work out cooperation within multinational tactical units, mine countermeasures in line with NATO standards and to support bilateral French-Ukrainian cooperation in the naval and maritime security field.”
French Ambassador to Ukraine, Isabelle Dumont, wrote in a tweet on March 23, that “Capricorne’s stop in Odesa marks the active cooperation between French Navy and Ukrainian Navy.”
British Ambassador to Ukraine, Judith Gough, also greeted and welcomed the French vessel on Twitter: “Number of ship visits by NATO countries into this vital port continues to grow,” the ambassador wrote.
On Feb. 25, the United States brought the biggest sea-faring guns to Ukraine so far, when a guided missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, docked in Odesa for two days.
The British surveillance ship HMS Echo became the first NATO warship to arrive in Odesa in late December 2018.
Echo’s deployment to Ukraine had been planned, but British defense sources told Kyiv Post the date had been moved up in response to the Nov. 25 incident near the Kerch Strait, where Russian forces attacked and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crew.
That aggression took place in international waters. Ukraine’s NATO allies have responded with maneuvers that they say are intended to uphold freedom of navigation.
While the USS Donald Cook is a missile destroyer and more of a warship, both HMS Echo and Capricorne are more specialist, survey and surveillance vessels.
Echo is a hydrographic survey ship that is designed to act as a vanguard vessel in support of allied ships and especially submarines. Its secondary role is in mine-sweeping and detecting underwater ordnance. Capricorne is also a survey ship, a Triparite class mine-sweeping vessel.
NATO defense sources have said that the Alliance views Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Black and Azov seas with growing concern and are preparing to deploy more ships to the region.
On Dec. 22, 2018, Sir Michael Fallon, the former UK defense secretary who started Operation Orbital, the UK’s defense assistance program to Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post that he couldn’t comment on the details of missions that survey ships could be undertaking, but more visits from allied vessels were coming.
“They are extremely important in reminding everybody that the Black Sea is an international waterway,” said Fallon.
“There’s going to be another Royal Navy ship visit… but these need to be more regular, and it needs to be part of a normal pattern of (NATO) visits throughout the Black Sea,” he said at the time.