US military conducts Open Skies observation flight over Ukraine
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2018
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. military conducted an “extraordinary” surveillance flight over Ukraine on Thursday in response to Russia’s recent attack on Ukrainian ships, the Pentagon said.
The flight, which was conducted under the Open Skies Treaty, was intended to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine, the Defense Department said in a statement. It described the operation as extraordinary but didn’t explain what made it so.
Ukraine is one of 34 countries party to the treaty, which permits its signatories to conduct surveillance missions over each other’s military and other sensitive facilities. Russia is also a signatory of the agreement.
“The timing of this flight is intended to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Ukraine and other partner nations,” the statement said.
The Pentagon did not say where in Ukraine the flights took place.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and since then has backed separatists in the country’s east in their fight against government forces. In a major escalation, Russia late last month attacked three Ukrainian ships and seized the crews during a dispute near the strategic Kerch Strait in the Black Sea.
Kiev has declared martial law in parts of the country, putting its military forces on high alert in connection with concerns that Russia could carry out further acts of aggression.
For the U.S., sending in an unarmed surveillance aircraft under the Open Skies Treaty could be a way to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine while avoiding escalating tensions with Russia.
The Pentagon said the clash was a “dangerous escalation in a pattern of increasingly provocative and threatening activity” by Russia.
“The United States seeks a better relationship with Russia, but this cannot happen while its unlawful and destabilizing actions continue in Ukraine and elsewhere,” it said.
Ukraine has sought more support from the U.S.-led NATO alliance. Last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko requested that allies send ships into the Sea of Azov, which is located between Ukraine and Russia.
So far, NATO has given no indication that it will take such a step. However, allies have increased their presence in the Black Sea in recent years in connection with concerns about Russia.