U.S. Air Force to Join Ukraine in Military Exercises to Bolster NATO and Regional Security

The U.S. Air Force will join representatives from eight other countries in Ukraine next month in what could be considered the country's largest-ever military aviation exercises. The drills, named Clear Sky, will aim to bolster Kiev's ties to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and increase regional security.

The large-scale exercises are also taking place as tensions rise between NATO and Russia, which is supporting an armed separatist insurgency in Ukraine. Moscow too has been using military drills and exercises to show off its military strength. Last week, Russia and China held joint military exercises that were touted as the largest since the end of the Cold War. Over 1,000 military aircraft and two naval fleets participated in the exercises, which were attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's cooperation with NATO has increased substantially since fighting broke out between the country's armed forces and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country known as the Donbas. Ukraine has expressed interest in joining the Western military alliance, but NATO is reluctant to admit new members that are engaged in territorial disputes or conflict. Still, some analysts argue that Ukraine's conflict with pro-Russian separatists, and Russia's decision to annex the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, need not prevent the country from joining international institutions.

"Germany, which was divided by the USSR (i.e. GDR – East Germany) for five decades, was a founding member of NATO and EU [the European Union]. Cyprus, which has a northern enclave occupied by Turkey since the mid-1970s, was also allowed to join the EU," Taras Kuzio, an expert on Ukraine, wrote in an op-ed for the publication the New Eastern Europe.

A Ukrainian MIG-29 fighters' (NATO reporting name 'Fulcrum') pilot practices his flight with a model of aircraft as he takes part in the practical flights to fulfill the system of combat duty during the exercises at the Air Force military base in the small town of Vasylkiv, some 40km from Kiev on August 3, 2016. Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

"Requirements to join NATO are not standardized and they have been tougher on Ukraine than, for example, towards the three Baltic states, Macedonia and Montenegro," Kuzio added. "It is doubtful Estonia and Latvia would have won referendums on NATO membership if their Russian speakers all had citizenship and could have voted."

The U.S. is also floating the idea of giving even more lethal weapons to Ukraine. Under the administration of former President Barack Obama, the U.S. only gave defensive equipment to aid the country's effort in fighting separatists. But President Donald Trump reversed that decision and sent around 200 javelin anti-tank rockets to Ukraine in May. Over the weekend, Trump's special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker said the U.S. is considering sending more military equipment because Washington is concerned about the activity of the Russian navy in the Sea of Avoz, nestled between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. Kiev plans to set up a new naval base in the area by the end of the year, according to government statements.

Traditionally dressed Ukrainian women offer bread and salt to welcome NATO servicemen at a training ground in Starytchi, outside Lviv, Ukraine, on September 3. Yuri Dyachyshyn/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Air Force will send around 450 of its members to Ukraine from military bases in the U.S. and Europe to participate in October's drills. Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and the U.K. will also send members of their military.

U.S. Air Force to Join Ukraine in Military Exercises to Bolster NATO and Regional Security | World