WASHINGTON — An unarmed U.S. Air Force observation aircraft joined planes from five other nations and flew through the skies of Ukraine, the Pentagon said.
“The timing of this flight is intended to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Ukraine and other partner nations,” the Pentagon said in a statement to Pentagon reporters. “The United States is resolute in our support for the security of European nations.”
The air display was conducted under terms of the 2002 Open Skies Treaty that allows unarmed aerial reconnaissance flights above the territory of participating nations. The United States is one of 34 nations in the treaty, as is Russia.
The Thursday flight was in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships and crew in November off the coast of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea. Russian ships opened fire on the Ukrainian vessels before the capture.
Onboard the U.S. plane in the Thursday flight were observers from Canada, France, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
“The Arms Control Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff requested the flight,” Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon told Pentagon reporters. He said the U.S. aircraft left its U.S. base and stopped in Germany before conducting the flight.
“Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait is a dangerous escalation in a pattern of increasingly provocative and threatening activity,” the Pentagon statement said.
The Pentagon also is considering a naval show of force in the Black Sea, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
Russia has refused to adhere to the Open Skies Treaty, specifically denying the U.S. permission to conduct all of its requested surveillance flights over the militarized city of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, Pentagon officials have said.
Moscow also occasionally sends fighters to intercept U.S. surveillance planes in international airspace over the Black Sea
“The United States seeks a better relationship with Russia, but this cannot happen while its unlawful and destabilizing actions continue in Ukraine and elsewhere,” the Pentagon statement said.