US reaffirms commitment to Ukraine with ‘extraordinary’ Open Skies flight.

OC-135B Open Skies Aircraft. Photo by (USAF)

Reuters reports that the pentagon conducted an “extraordinary flight” over Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty on Thursday to show US support for Ukraine amid tensions after Russian seized three Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors in the Kerch Strait in November. 

Normally, as one of the 34 signatories of the Open Skies Treaty, which allows each of the signatories to gather military information about the other state parties, Russia would have to approve of the flight. However, the treaty allows “extraordinary flights” to be carried out. Thursday’s flight was conducted with the bilateral agreement of the Ukraine and the US, according to CNN. 

The pentagon says that this flight, carried out by a US Air Force OC-135 observation aircraft, was requested by the Arms Control Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff and observers from Ukraine, Romania, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and France joined the US. In addition to the foreign observers, 25 US service members participated in the flight, CNN reports.

The last time an extraordinary observation flight over Ukraine took place was in 2014, when the US protested Russia’s military actions in Crimea. 

Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, told CNN, “The timing of this flight is intended to reaffirm US commitment to Ukraine and other partner nations. 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.” 

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, says that Russia is preparing to invade and has 80,000 troops stationed in parts of Ukraine. Ukraine’s parliament approved Poroshenko’s request to impose martial law for 30 days, starting on November 28. 

Former deputy assistant secretary of defense, Michael Carpenter, told Newsweek that, while the flight conducted on Thursday is useful in determining how many troops Russia has on Ukraine’s borders, more action is needed to bolster Ukraine’s military strength. The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, called the observation flight “sensible” but agrees that the US must take further action, such as sanctions and providing military equipment to Ukraine, in response to Russian’s provocation in the Black Sea.

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