According to flight tracking data, a USAF RQ-4 drone has made repeated surveillance missions to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad in recent months. Data shows a US drone first flying over Lithuania and Poland, avoiding Russian airspace, in February this year before periodically returning. However the unmanned aerial spy vehicle has made repeated missions in October and November with the latest flight taking place just last week.
The drone is believed to belong to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the US Air Force which is deployed to Sigonella air base in Italy from Beale in California.
It is used as a high altitude long endurance platform meaning it can fly thousands of miles undetected high up in the atmosphere to capture radar and photographic evidence.
Each RQ-4 costs more than $220million and is used primarily to target weapons and protect friendly forces by providing near-live intelligence and reconnaissance data to military commanders in the field.
Little is known of the exact intentions of the US’s missions but Kaliningrad is home to vitally strategic warm water ports for the Russian Navy.
The exclave is a source of tension between US-led NATO and Russia since President Trump announced he was withdrawing from a landmark nuclear treaty which keeps missiles out of Europe.
Mr Trump said in October he wants to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INR) treaty, which was signed by US President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, after accusing Russia of breaking its terms.
The Kremlin has denied the President’s claim and threatened to respond in kind, meaning Moscow could deploy intermediate, long range and nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad if the treaty is ripped up.
The exclave used to be known as Königsberg when it served as capital of the former East Prussia.
However Stalin seized the territory, which is situated between NATO states Poland and Lithuania, after the end of World War 2 because of its strategic importance for the Russian navy.
Earlier this month, Russia said it would aim its missiles at smaller European countries holding US missiles should America come true on their pledge to pull out of the INR deal.
President Putin confirmed the threat to European states after NATO foreign ministers issued a joint statement supporting Mr Trump’s accusations.
They said: “Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.
“We strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty.”
However the Russian President refuted the accusations saying it was just a pretext for America to exit the agreement.
Defence analysts have suggested the US hopes to station missiles in Europe in response to a growing threat from China.