Two US Air Force spy planes were spotted flying over eastern Ukraine on Monday near the conflict zone in the Donbas region.
The mission involved an E-8C ground-surveillance plane and an RC-135V reconnaissance aircraft. The planes passed less than 40 miles from territory controlled by separatists in the Donbas, which borders Russia.
According to Forbes, this marks one of the first times that the US Air Force has openly flown inside Ukrainian airspace. The planes could have flown with their transponders off, but they were on, making the aircraft visible on public flight trackers.
The reconnaissance mission comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine, and Moscow has repeatedly been warning against the deployment of the US military near its borders. Russia is seeking guarantees from the West to halt NATO’s eastward expansion, and the US and Russia are holding talks on the security issues on January 10th.
In another military deployment aimed at Russia, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and its strike group to stay in the Mediterranean Sea region rather than move into the Middle East. A Pentagon official told The Associated Press that the move was meant to reassure allies in Europe.
The Mediterranean is far from Russia, but it puts the US warships near Turkey’s Bosporus strait, which is used to enter the Black Sea. In recent years, the US and NATO have significantly increased military activity in the Black Sea, which Russia points to as one of the main sources of tensions in the region.