KIEV, June 5 (RIA Novosti) - The parliament of the Crimea, a Ukrainian autonomous republic on the Black Sea, protested Monday against foreign military exercises scheduled to be held on the peninsula.
In late May a U.S. cargo vessel called at the Crimean port of Feodosia, bringing several dozen containers with firearms, military hardware and building materials for an exercise, Sea Breeze-2006, with the United States. The visit sparked a wave of anti-NATO protests in the Crimea, where ethnic Russians constitute a majority of the population, because many people assumed the exercise was part of Kiev's bid to join the North Atlantic alliance.
The Crimean parliament issued a statement asking President Viktor Yushchenko "to suspend cooperation between the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and U.S. and NATO structures in the Crimea before the Supreme Rada [Ukraine's parliament] considers this issue."
Difficulties surround the status of military exercises with other states in Ukraine as the nation's parliament banned foreign military forces from joining Ukrainians in exercises earlier this year and would have to revoke the prohibition for six planned war-games to go ahead. However, a coalition majority in parliament is yet to be formed after March 26 election failed to produce a clear winner.
On Saturday Yushchenko signed a decree on preparations for Sea Breeze and another international operation, Tight Knot-2006.
Yushchenko ordered law-enforcers to maintain public order in the Crimea following massive protests against the exercises and to expel foreigners joining these protests from the country.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said June 2 that the planned exercises were not connected with NATO.
"The Sea Breeze joint exercises are part of cooperation between the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and the U.S. Department of Defense. These are bilateral exercises designed to raise the combat efficiency of Ukraine's armed forces and they have nothing to do with NATO," a ministry spokesman said.