As the crisis in Crimea enters its third week, NATO has deployed two surveillance planes to fly over neighboring countries and monitor the situation in Ukraine.
Two AWACS – Airborne Warning And Control System – reconnaissance planes flew from bases in Germany and the U.K. on Wednesday and will fly over Poland and Romania. A NATO spokesman said the planes will not leave the airspace of the military alliance member nations and will not enter Ukrainian or Russian airspace.
"Our flights will not leave NATO airspace," Lt. Col. Jay Janzen told the AP. "Regardless, we can observe, we can look a very long way." Janzen said that the planes can observe over 300,000 square kilometers (115,000 square miles) and will primarily monitor activity in the air and on the sea. He added that the flights had already been planned as training missions, but more planes are being added to the exercises. The U.S. has deployed fighter planes to countries such as Poland and Lithuania, and NATO's 28-member states decided on Monday to step up monitoring Ukraine by deploying AWACS planes.
Residents of Crimea are set to vote in a referendum Sunday whether to remain in Ukraine or become part of Russia. President Barack Obama has called the scheduled vote "unconstitutional" and will meet with Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk when he visits the White House on Wednesday.