Days ahead of the planned Russia-NATO talks in Geneva set to start Jan.9-10, the United States has sent several F-16 fighter jets to Poland, as part of a NATO training mission to assist with Polish and Belgian F-16 "policing missions".
The US fighters were deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany in order to rehearse "rapid deployment" in the east European region. Crucially this comes at a moment that tensions between Russia and NATO are on edge, particularly over events in eastern Ukraine, and amid accusations Russia has built-up troops in Crimea and near the border.
An official NATO press release described of the training mission: "The Belgian, Polish and U.S. fighters will practice advanced airborne manoeuvres and work closely with Combined Air Operations Centre Uedem (CAOCUE) to enhance Command and Control procedures. This detachment in Eastern Europe is designed to improve interoperability among the Allies and rehearse the rapid deployment of aircraft to alternate bases."
Poland, it should be recalled, became a full NATO member in the late 1990's - precisely at a time of most intense Russian opposition based on prior pledges from Brussels that it wouldn't expand the Europ-Atlantic military bloc further to the east.
Military Times, meanwhile, describes this latest F-16 joint mission as precisely designed to prepare for a possible Ukraine conflict scenario:
NATO air policing efforts may become increasing important as tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to rise. Ukrainian defense officials have previously stated their growing concern of the possibility of invasion, with one official telling Air Force Magazine — under the condition of anonymity — that their number one priority for fending off Russia would be air defense.
The NATO press release further affirmed the alliance's "solidarity" amid pressing threats.
Additionally, the Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at NATO Headquarters Allied Air Command Brig. Gen. Joel Carey, asserted that "These deployments demonstrate the Alliance’s ability to rapidly and effectively deploy assets to vital regions to assure partners and safeguard Allied airspace."
Russia appears to be perhaps "answering" NATO with its own patrols over the so-called 'union state' of Belarus and Russia, TASS is reporting.
"The crews of Belarusian and Russian Su-30SM fighters conducted their first joint air patrol of the Union State's borders this year," the Defense Ministry of Belarus reported on Wednesday. "The Belarusian and Russian pilots flying Su-30SM multirole fighters conducted their first joint air patrol of the Union State’s borders this year. The pilots spent 120 minutes in the air, covering a distance of over 1,150 km during their patrol," the statement said.