A U.S. surveillance drone was spotted flying above Crimea, presumably doing reconnaissance over eastern Ukraine before returning to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, according to flight tracking services.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk's flyover is the latest in a series of US and NATO air patrols near Russian teritory. Last June a NATO F-16 fighter jet tried to approach the Russian defense minister's plane above the neutral waters over the Baltic sea. It was warded off by a Russian Su-27, and the flight continued to Kaliningrad for a discussion on security issues. The F-16 was warded off after the Russian jet tipped it's wings, showing its armament.
And in January, a Russian Su-27 intercepted a Navy EP-3 Aires surveillance plane over the Black Sea - which drew a sharp rebuke from the Pentagon who said the Russian jet flew too close to the U.S. plane.
The latest surveillance flyover comes on the heels of the Trump administration approving a deal to arm Ukraine with 210 Javelin anti-aircraft missiles and 37 launchers for $47 million. The deal was announced in December, however it follows Obama-era legislation to export weapons to the war-torn country.
As we noted two weeks ago, the sale marks a significant increase in U.S. military support for Ukraine and another major deterioration US-Russian relations, and is the first lethal weapons sale of its kind since the breakout of a Russian-backed proxy civil war against the central government in Ukraine's eastern provinces.
President Trump approved the plan right before Christmas 2017, and Congress has until the end of March days to sink the deal or it will go through, which is expected. Trump says the sale represents a "tougher" stance on Russia than Obama, however the Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations tried his best to downplay the comment.
"There is what I view as an artificial distinction between lethal and non-lethal military equipment," Ambassador Kurt Volker said in Washington on Monday, comparing anti-tank missiles to a counter-battery radar that improves targeting to attack and kill an enemy firing mortars. "That's non-lethal and an anti-tank missile, which sits in a box and doesn’t get used unless you have a tank coming at you, is lethal. Both are clearly defensive weapons."
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov - the guy NATO buzzed, issued a harsh rebuke in December when the news of the sale first broke.
"The United States in a certain sense crossed the line, announcing the intention to transfer weapons of direct damaging action to Ukraine," the statement said, translated from Russian. "American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, to which we cannot remain indifferent."
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said then that the sale "will once again motivate the hotheads" in the Ukrainian government and "unleash bloodshed again."
Trump's approval of the arms deal was a major shift from the Republican party platform, which was amended when Trump was the party's nominee for president, from supporting "lethal defensive arms" to Ukraine to the more vague "appropriate assistance” — language that ran counter to traditional Republican foreign policy.
Needless to say, Trump himself promised a reset with Russia, but since taking office, relations with Moscow have not improved.
And after years of covert American involvement in the Ukrainian proxy and civil war which has raged since 2014 - and which a leaked recording confirmed was precipitated by the US State Department - it appears that neocon hawks like McCain, Cotton, and Corker are finally getting their way.
Perhaps more scary in terms of escalating an unnecessary war which has already taken more than 10,000 lives since 2014, the Kiev government and some in Washington are already pushing for putting anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of Ukrainian forces.
“What we are awaiting and have called for is the provision of lethal defense weapons that are more advanced - a larger package that is under consideration right now, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles,” a Ukrainian official told ABC News. “We are expecting this decision and would welcome it.”
Putin, or course, just rolled out a series of brand new nukes. His new "toys" include tactical and hypersonic nuclear devices which are said to be able to overcome missile defense systems.
“Efforts to contain Russia have failed, face it,” Putin said in a nearly two-hour address he illustrated with video clips of the new arms, which included underwater drones, intercontinental missiles and a hypersonic system he said “heads for its target like a meteorite.” -Bloomberg
Russia has also accused the US of violating the nuclear nonproliferation treaty by "preparing the militaries of European states to use tactical nuclear weapons against Russia"
He [Putin] said Russia had long warned Washington not to go ahead with anti-missile systems that Moscow feared could erode its nuclear deterrent. “Nobody listened to us. Listen now,” he said, to a loud ovation from the crowd of legislators, officials and dignitaries. -Bloomberg
We won't hold our breath for the Olympic-level mental gymnastics from anti-Trumpers trying to explain how Putin convinced Trump to sell Ukraine all that hardware which will soon create quite a few Russian army widows.