A NATO E-3A Sentry AWACS plane flies over European skies. The alliance is sending an undisclosed number of AWACS jets to patrol the skies over Poland and Romania, in response to Russia's recent military moves against Ukraine. (U.S. Department of Defense)
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NATO is sending Airborne Early Warning and Control System aircraft to conduct reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to “monitor the crisis in Ukraine,” a NATO spokesman said Monday.
“These routes are well established and will be flown from their regular home airbases in Geilenkirchen, Germany, and Waddington, United Kingdom,” the spokesman said in an email Monday to Air Force Times.
The flights will take place solely on NATO territory, said the spokesman, who could not say how many AWACS aircraft will be involved in the mission.
On Feb. 28, Russian troops began moving into the Crimea region of Ukraine shortly after Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted by anti-government demonstrators. A referendum is slated for March 16, when voters in the Crimea peninsula will decide whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia.
The U.S. has responded to the crisis by sending a KC-135 aerial refueling plane and six F-15 fighter jets to Lithuania to help safeguard Baltic airspace, reinforcing the four F-15s that have been there since Jan. 1.
Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak has reportedly said the U.S. is sending 12 F-16s and 300 troops to his country. But a spokesman for U.S. European Command could not confirm those numbers.
“We have nothing yet to announce on sending aircraft to Poland and are still working out the details,” Navy Capt. Gregory Hicks said in an email Monday to Air Force Times.
If Crimea votes to join Russia, the Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimea could pose a problem for Russia. A retired U.S. general with expertise on the region said he expects the Ukrainians to fight if they are attacked.
“My experience was the Ukrainian infantry was very tough,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. Army Europe from 2011 to 2012, told Military Times on March 3. “They are hard soldiers. They are used to hard conditions, and their leadership was becoming more professional as we were working with them in Europe.”