This Independence Day, give a special nod to an unlikely recipient: The queen and her Royal Navy.

It's true that we and Great Britain's fleet weren't that friendly in 1776. But in 2021, British sailors are putting their lives on the line beside U.S. allies in a bid to stem Russian aggression.

HMS Defender, a destroyer, sailed past Russian warning shots near Crimea in the Black Sea in late June. The warship went to battle stations as Russian planes whizzed by. Defender emerged unscathed, showing Russia's neighbors that Vladimir Putin's nose can be tweaked.

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The British ship is in the Black Sea to join in a multinational training exercise led by America. Operation Sea Breeze, which runs through July 10, is designed to bolster Russia's neighbors including Ukraine, as tensions continue to simmer in the region.

Sea Breeze comes a few weeks after a major Russian exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, with Russian ships and planes operating out of Syria for the drills.

Ships including the cruiser Moscow, flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, conducted the drill to "ensure the security" of Russia's holdings in Syria.

In a televised address, Putin called the British action a deliberate provocation done in conjunction with Americans.

Putin, whose troops invaded Ukraine in 2014 to seize Crimea, isn't moved by world opinion.

"I am not concerned about this or that somebody does not respect the choice of the people in Crimea to join Russia," he said, continuing the fiction that Crimea magically decided to join Russia.

HMS Defender was joined in the Black Sea by an American destroyer, USS Ross.

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"The continuation of this exercise program is a visible demonstration of our enduring commitment to work closely with our NATO Allied and partner nations to enhance maritime security in the Black Sea," the Navy said in a news release.

Russia's fixation with Crimea and its naval base in Syria is nothing new. Going back to the czars, Russia has always struggled for a warm-water port to house its fighting ships.

That's because Russia's ports on the Baltic are frozen in winter, locking its navy at the dock.

With uninterrupted access to the sea, Russia has more power to influence world events with its military might and terrorize its neighbors.

It's the same thing Russia and Great Britain fought over in the 1850s amid the first Crimean War as Russian troops surged toward Istanbul in a bid for naval access to the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia in the modern era has rattled its saber repeatedly toward Britain, frequently sending bombers off the North Sea coast and sending a major naval task force through the English Channel earlier this year.

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But after sinking in the wake of the Cold War, British naval power is rising again.

The new HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of the planet's most modern carriers, is at sea on its inaugural security cruise with escorts including an American destroyer.

And the Royal Navy say it is hitting the waves to defend shared values.

"The Royal Navy’s presence is about cooperating with our partners and allies to advance regional security, stability and freedom of navigation," British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said after the incident off Crimea.

In 1776, we rightfully broke away from the United Kingdom's tyranny.

In 2021, our friendship couldn't be more important.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

City Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's City Editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom has covered the military at home and overseas and has cover statehouses in Denver and Olympia, Wash. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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