Over the last 2 days, more than two dozen Russian military aircraft, in four groups, were tracked and intercepted conducting aerial maneuvers around Europe, according to NATO. As The Wall Street Journal reports, this activity is on a scale seldom seen since the end of the Cold War, prompting NATO jets to scramble in another sign of how raw East-West relations have grown. "There is a troubling trend... of sabre rattling" warned The White House, noting that NATO has intercepted over 100 incursions by Russia year-to-date to which the US Army chief of staff ominously warned, this is "Russian aggression," and "we have to reassure our allies."
A photo released Wednesday by the Norwegian Air Force shows what it said was a Norwegian F-16AM Fighting Falcon, left, accompanying a Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS at an undisclosed location
Russian military aircraft conducted aerial maneuvers around Europe this week on a scale seldom seen since the end of the Cold War, prompting NATO jets to scramble in another sign of how raw East-West relations have grown.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that more than two dozen Russian aircraft in four groups were intercepted and tracked on Tuesday and Wednesday, an unusually high level of activity that the alliance said could have endangered passing civilian flights.
Military jets from eight nations were scrambled to meet the Russian aircraft, which a NATO spokesman said remained in international airspace and didn’t violate NATO territory.
However, NATO officials said such flights heighten the risks of military miscalculations. They also come at a time when U.S. officials have been voicing concern about Moscow’s actions in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, where thousands have been killed in months of fighting between the government and Russia-backed separatists.
“There is a troubling trend of out-of-area events being increasingly used by Russia along its periphery for political saber-rattling, with probing incursions by air and sea by the Russian military becoming more commonplace and flagrant,” a senior Obama administration official said. “The United States has repeatedly called upon Russia to respect international law and the sovereign territory of its neighbors.”
There was no immediate comment from Moscow, which has denied in the past that such flights were provocations.
NATO said it has conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft so far this year, about three times as many as were conducted in 2013.
“We have been keeping track of incidents and have noticed an increase in Russian flights close to NATO airspace since the start of the Ukraine crisis,” said Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “We don’t think those flights help de-escalate the current situation at all.”
Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff, called the flights “Russian aggression” in an interview on CNN. “I think they are trying to reassert themselves,” he said. “I think we have to watch it very carefully. We have to reassure our allies.”
* * *
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s new secretary-general, said more “transparency and predictability” was needed between NATO and Russia “to avoid that the crisis spirals into something worse [and] that misunderstandings create even bigger conflicts.”