A series of aggressive moves by Russia, including flying military jets aggressively and without properly identification, has raised serious concern among NATO member nations.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute told Reuters there have been "multiple incidents" of Russian military aircraft turning off transponders and taking off without filing flight plans or speaking to civilian air traffic controller.
In one specific incident revealed by the Norwegian air force, in-cockpit video showed a Norwegian pilot flying an F-16 dodging a Russian MiG-31. According to the Wall Street Journal, the two Norwegian aircraft were sent skyward by NATO to intercept Russian aircraft in the international airspace just north off Norway's border.
In the video, the Norwegian pilot can be heard saying, “what the hell,” as he banks hard left to avoid a potential collision with the Russian jet.
NATO says Russia has increased its flight tempo around NATO member nations since 2013, mirroring the increased tension between the U.S. and Russia amid the Ukraine crisis. NATO has scrambled alert aircraft more than 400 times in 2014 to identify or intercept Russian jets — a 50 percent increase in just one year, according to Reuters.
The Russians are making their strength known at sea as well: a squadron of Russian warships entered the English Channel on Friday. At least four vessels led by the anti-submarine ship will conduct drills for several days. Although NATO said the mission is essentially "normal maritime traffic," Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said the Russian warship movement doesn’t help to defuse tension and called their presence in the English Channel "unnecessary."
Lute, a retired Army lieutenant general who advised the White House for more than six years on Afghanistan, said the Russian actions in the air are especially unsafe and put civilian travelers in unnecessary danger.
"These Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms," he said in Brussels before a NATO foreign ministers meeting Tuesday.
Western pundits note that the Kremlin's perceived indifference to internationally recognized aviation safety procedures is seen as especially offensive after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine this summer. Washington and NATO members have said a Russian weapons system caused the loss of the civilian airliner.
But it doesn't seem that Russian officials are making any plans to back down soon. Russia Today reported Monday that the Kremlin has plans to build a new national defense facility designed to monitor "threats to national security in peacetime, but would take control of the entire country in case of war."
The state-sponsored news organization called the new facility a "major upgrade" created to mirror some of the Pentagon's response capabilities, especially focused on ballistic missile launches and deployment of strategic nuclear weapons.
"The new top-security, fortified facility in Moscow includes several large war rooms, a brand new supercomputer in the heart of a state-of-the-art data processing center, underground facilities, secret transport routes for emergency evacuation and a helicopter pad," RT reported.
With mounting evidence that Russian military tactics are becoming more aggressive, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg argued NATO's posture must be emboldened in Europe. Stoltenberg noted 2014 has introduced more “aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong,” during a press conference.
“Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security,” Stoltenberg said.
Russian leadership at scoffed the accusations, saying the West has undermined stability in the region.
“They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, which is Europe’s north,” said Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister. “Those endless military exercises, rebasing of aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the Baltic nations. This is the reality, a very negative one.”
(H/T: Wall Street Journal)
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