A Russian MP has called for Western surveillance aircraft to be downed for allegedly facilitating Ukrainian strikes FILE PHOTO: An MQ-9 Reaper drone © John Moore / Getty Images

NATO members have sharply increased the number of surveillance flights over the Black Sea off Crimea in recent months, RIA Novosti reported on Tuesday, citing public data.

The Russian news agency analyzed data from Flightradar24, an aggregator of unclassified flight information, and focused on flights that could have been made to surveil the Russian peninsula. Since spring, the number has grown from seven per week to 21.

While European members of the US-led bloc have accounted for some of the flights, Washington is the primary operator of NATO spy aircraft in the Black Sea region, the outlet said. It highlighted that American planes and drones, such as the RQ-4B Global Hawk, conducted 16 of the total 21 flights made last week.

The report comes amid a debate in Russia about NATO’s role in facilitating Ukrainian attacks on Crimea. Kiev hit a military shipyard in Sevastopol two weeks ago and the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the same city last Friday. In both operations, UK-provided Storm Shadow missiles were reportedly used.

The US and its allies continue to provide intelligence to Kiev as it attacks Russian targets. Information from Western partners “about radars, electronic warfare, and air-defense assets” deployed by Russian forces has helped Ukraine launch multiple kamikaze drone raids deep inside Russian territory, including in Moscow, The Economist reported last month.

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Mikhail Sheremet, a Russian MP representing constituents form Crimea, has suggested attacking spy aircraft due to their perceived complicity in Ukrainian strikes.

“Strange things happen during or after [NATO] flights, and I think it is no coincidence. Drone and rocket attacks by Ukrainian terrorists begin,” he told RIA Novosti.

“I believe that all NATO military surveillance planes and strategic drones over the Black Sea should be designated legitimate targets. They should be destroyed or forced to land,” the MP added.

The US previously accused Russian military pilots of “harassing” drones flying in international space over the Black Sea. One notable incident in March resulted in a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper crashing.

Washington said a pair of Russian Su-27 fighters had dumped fuel on the spy drone, while one of them reportedly clipped its propeller. Moscow stated the UAV had been trespassing in a restricted flight zone designated by Russia, and that the crash had been caused by “sharp maneuvers” taken by its operator. (RT)