The tension between Russia and Ukraine has hit new heights as the U.S. has carried out a “rare” flight mission over Ukrainian airspace to “reaffirm U.S. commitment” to the area that has been victim of Kremlin-backed encroachment on the former Soviet-bloc state. After the latest skirmish, President Donald Trump cancelled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Argentina late last month “based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned”.
Under the international Open Skies Treaty – of which the U.S., Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and 31 other nations are a part – the Pentagon is rumored to have flown an unarmed Air Force OC-135 observation plane near Crimea, the Ukrainian region seized by Russia in a 2014 invasion. The bilateral agreement follows the path the U.S. has taken with Ukraine in the past few months after Russia has become much more aggressive in their geopolitical foothold in Eastern Europe.
The flight was the second American military gesture made this week after Russia shot at and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crew members off the Crimean Peninsula in November. On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy piloted a warship through the Sea of Japan in a challenge to Russia’s maritime claims in international waters.
“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 said in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The United States seeks a better relationship with Russia, but this cannot happen while its unlawful and destabilizing actions continue in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
According to one report, U.S. military officials are also planning to send another military ship into the Black Sea, in a third challenge to Russian territorial claims in international waters across the Eastern Hemisphere.
Months ago, Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was in contact with the U.S. Defense Department about ramping up military support in the Baltic region, which is currently on a temporary, rotational basis by American troops. The Polish government has been highly concerned over regional security as the Russian government has bolstered separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, claiming that it is only a matter of time before such hostility reaches over the border.
Poland even offered the Pentagon $2 billion to assist them in building further military infrastructure and funding permanent deployment of U.S. troops. Nevertheless, Poland has not been the only Baltic-region nation that has expressed concern. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are all worried that Russian advancement will not end in Crimea.
Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the exile of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, NATO-led battle groups have been deployed to each country. Within the past four years, 150 U.S. troops have been stationed in Lithuania, and in mid-2017 the country’s president requested a permanent U.S. presence, “to not only deter but to defend,” against possible Russian military threats. Over 10,000 people have been killed during the years of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government troops.
Martial law has been imposed in the Black Sea town of Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine after Russia’s latest military escapade. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said, “Russia will pay a huge price if they attack us.”