Details of US spy plane flight over eastern Ukraine revealed
A US Air Force E-8C Joint STARS battle management plane has made its maiden flight over eastern Ukraine for a reconnaissance mission to gather information about the situation on the ground, an American official has revealed.
Speaking to CNN on Wednesday, US European Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Russ Wolfkiel explained that the aircraft flew on Monday with permission from Ukrainian authorities and did not cross the border of the Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR), which are currently run as unrecognized states by separatists demanding independence from Kiev. The frontier area is the site of a war between the forces and the Ukrainian military.
Wolfkiel did not reveal the aircraft’s exact route or its scouting information but told CNN that the Pentagon “routinely operates aircraft in the Black Sea region.”
The report of a reconnaissance mission comes as tensions remain high on the eastern Ukrainian border with Russia. In recent weeks, Western media outlets have alleged that the Kremlin is planning an invasion into Ukraine in the upcoming months. Moscow has denied all such accusations.
The conflict in the region began following the events of the 2014 Maidan, when violent street protests toppled a democratically elected government. This eventually led to two self-proclaimed republics, DPR and LPR, declaring independence – a move recognized by neither Russia, Ukraine, nor any UN state.
The E-8C Joint STARS plane, made by Northrop Grumman, was first produced in the 1990s and has been used around the world with the US Air Force. The plane has an onboard antenna with a 120-degree field of view that can cover nearly 20,000 square miles, meaning it could have picked up surveillance data on LPR and DPR territory without flying directly over it.
The flight came just three days before a planned phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart Joe Biden. According to the Kremlin, the Russian leader wishes to use the call “to reach a compromise, taking into account each side’s red lines.”
Earlier in December, Moscow publicly released two draft documents with a list of promises it wants to obtain from the US and NATO. As well as asking for a pledge that the American-led bloc won’t expand eastwards, the proposed treaties also include the end of Western cooperation with post-Soviet countries, the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, and the withdrawal of NATO troops and missiles away from the Russian border.