REUTERS - The United States began its biggest European deployment of F-22 fighters with a visit to the Black Sea in an exercise aimed at beefing up military support for NATO's eastern European allies who say they face aggression from Russia.
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U.S. President Barack Obama promised in 2014 to bolster the defenses of NATO's eastern members which were spooked by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin's use of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
A U.S. KC-135 refueling plane flew with two F-22 Raptor fighters from Britain to Romania's Mihail Kogalniceanu air base on the Black Sea, a Reuters reporter accompanying the mission said.
The United States has deployed 12 F-22s, which are almost impossible to detect on radar and so advanced that the U.S. Congress has banned Lockheed Martin from selling them abroad, at Lakenheath, a British base in eastern England.
The West is seeking to bolster the defenses of its eastern flank and reassure eastern European NATO members which spent decades under Russian dominance, without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces permanently.
But tensions are rising and Russia says the NATO build-up is stoking a dangerous situation.
Two Russian warplanes flew simulated attack passes near a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea in early April, said U.S. officials, who said the vessel was on routine business near Poland.