500SU-27 Flanker RAF

 

The European Leadership Network has released a report on recent militarily provocative Russian actions toward NATO members, as well as Sweden and Finland. The authors, Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, describe 40 incidents from the past eight months (interactive map), of which they describe three as “high risk” and eleven more as “serious, with escalation risk.”

The three high risk incidents are a near-collision of a Russian reconaissance aircraft with an SAS passenger plane near Malmo, Sweden; the kidnaping of an Estonian security service officer from Estonian soil; and the probable submarine in Swedish waters. The eleven serious incidents include harassment of U.S. and Swedish reconnaissance planes in international airspace by armed Russian fighters; Russian aircraft conducting close overflights over U.S. and Canadian ships in the Black Sea; Russian aircraft violating Swedish airspace on a mock ‘bombing raid’ mission; a mock attack on the Danish island of Bornholm; practicing cruise missile attacks against the US mainland; and the boarding and detention of a Lithuanian fishing vessel in the Barents Sea.

The authors make three recommendations:

  1. The Russian leadership should urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture, and Western diplomacy should be aimed at persuading Russia to move in this direction.
  2. All sides should exercise military and political restraint.
  3. All sides must improve military-to-military communication and transparency.

Why is Russia stepping up this kind of activity? Undoubtedly, to learn more about its neighbors’ defenses and to try to intimidate them with its military might. It may also be that Russia is looking for an interaction in which damage occurs to one side or the other. That would be rapidly followed by a Russian claim of aggression and perhaps escalation. Russian military aircraft are flying with their transponders off, which makes them invisible to ground control radar.

The past month has also seen a number of Russian missile launches. Pavel Podvig finds these numbers consistent with past autumn launch activity. Additionally, the US Strategic Command has been conducting a large exercise, to which some of the Russian activity may be a response. But much of the Russian activity occurred before that exercise and is notably increased from last year. It appears that the other countries involved are exercising restraint. Russia needs to respond in kind before someone gets hurt.

 

Photo: A Russian SU-27 Flanker aircraft banks away with a RAF Typhoon in the background. RAF Typhoons were scrambled on Tuesday 17 June 2014 to intercept multiple Russian aircraft as part of NATO’s ongoing mission to police Baltic airspace. UK Ministry of Defence

Update: More photos.

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