Russian and NATO pilots are testing each other’s wills in the skies above Eastern Europe – Business Insider


NATO jets Baltics Norway Italy fighter plane
Norwegian
and Italian fighters patrol the Baltics during a NATO
air-policing mission from an air base in Lithuania, May 20,
2015.

Ints
Kalnins/REUTERS


NATO and Russian aircraft and ships have drawn ever closer in the
skies and seas around Eastern Europe in recent years, engaging in
a kind of cat-and-mouse game
that has led to many near misses.

A significant number of these encounters have taken place above
the Baltics, where NATO members border a Russia they see
as growing increasingly
aggressive
in its near abroad.

June alone saw several such incidents, including a Russian jet
intercepting a US
B-52 over the Baltic Sea early in the month, another Russian jet
flying within a few feet
of a US Air Force reconnaissance jet over the Baltic Sea in
mid-June, and a NATO F-16 buzzing the Russian
defense minister’s jet later in the month.

Western officials and the research and advocacy group Global Zero
— which analyzed 97 midair confrontations between Russian and
Western aircraft over the Baltic between March 2014 and April
2017 — have said that
Russian pilots are more often responsible for unsafe
interceptions; some of which arise from negligence or are
accidents, while some are deliberate shows of force.

“What we see in the Baltic Sea is increased military
activity — we see it on land, at sea and in the air, and that
just underlines the importance of transparency and predictability
to prevent incidents and accidents,” NATO Secretary General Jens
Stoltenberg told The Wall Street
Journal
. “And if they happen, it is important to make sure
they don’t spiral out of control and create dangerous
situations.”


Russia intercept US plane jet
A Russian fighter jet
flies near a US Air Force plane, June 2017.

US Air Force via Associated Press

Western officials and analysts believe Moscow is using such
incidents as geopolitical tactics, responding to events in Europe
and elsewhere, such as in Syria. Russia has denied this and said
that recent reports about its abilities and activity in the
region are “total
Russophobia
.”

Both sides are working toward “risk reduction
policies for the Baltics. But the uptick in aerial encounters
comes amid increased military activity by both sides on the
ground in Eastern Europe.

Some 25,000 troops from the US and 23 other countries are
taking part in the Saber Guardian military exercise in Bulgaria,
Hungary, and Romania this month — the
drills are designed as a deterrent and are
larger in both scale
and scope
” than previous exercises, US European Command
said in
June.

US bombers also traveled to the UK
in June in preparation for two separate multilateral exercises in
the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe that month.

Those military exercises come ahead of war games planned
for September by Russia and Belarus. Those exercises could
involve up to 100,000 troops and include nuclear-weapons
training.


US Marine Lithuania
Lithuanian
soldiers and US Marines from the Black Sea Rotational Force
engaged opposition forces in a partnered attack during Exercise
Saber Strike at the Pabrade Training Area, Lithuania, June 15,
2015.

US Marine Corps/Sgt. Paul
Peterson


Neighboring countries have expressed concern
that those war games could leave a permanent Russian presence in
Belarus — the US plans to station
paratroopers
in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during them
and will adjust its
fighter-jet rotation to put more experienced pilots in the area
to better manage any encounters with Russian forces.

The US and NATO have increased troop deployments to Eastern
Europe. UK and Canadian forces are headed
to Poland, Latvia, and Estonia, and NATO personnel are already in
Lithuania. The latter country has called for a permanent US
military presence there as “a game changer” to
counter Moscow.

In the wake of this month’s G20 summit in Germany, several
countries in Eastern Europe are moving to boost their air-defense
capabilities, with the US aiding the effort.



“Romania
will use the Patriot missile system to strengthen its homeland
defense and deter regional threats,” the US State Department
said.

© AFP/File JANEK
SKARZYNSKI


In early July, Poland and the US signed a memoranda of
understanding for an $8 billion sale of
US-made Patriot missiles.

This week, the State Department gave tentative approval to
a $3.9 billion sale
of Patriot missiles and related equipment, like radars, to
Romania.

Patriot missiles have also been stationed in
Lithuania for the first time, albeit temporarily, as part of
military exercises focused on air defense and involving five NATO
countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said several
times
that the deployment of defensive missile systems by
NATO allies would be a “great danger,” and he has threatened to
respond by boosting Russia’s own missile systems.

“The way I view the Patriots deployment is that it also forms
part of a broader U.S. response in the region to the upcoming
Russian exercise nearby,” Magnus Nordenman, a Nordic security
expert at the Atlantic Council, told AFP.

“Air defense has not been a priority for the last 15 years
when NATO was busy in Afghanistan, dealing with piracy and
peacekeeping,” he said. “There was not much of an air threat but
now that Russia is building up air forces, it is
different.”

Russian and NATO pilots are testing each other’s wills in the skies above Eastern Europe – Business Insider