Russian warplanes increased their flights near European airspace during the past few days, according to NATO. Seven aircraft, including fighters and bombers, were first intercepted over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, before returning to Russia. On Wednesday, Moscow escalated the situation, launching another mission over the Baltics and into the Black Sea, where the Russian bombers were met with Turkish warplanes. On the same day, Norwegian F-16s intercepted four Tu-95 strategic bombers and four II-78 refueling aircraft flying over the Norwegian Sea. Six Russian planes turned back, but two bombers flew past Typhoon fighters scrambled in the UK and close to the Portuguese coastline.
A Russian TU-95 being refueled by a Il-78. (Photo: Military-today.com)
NATO officials classified Russia’s actions as “concerning” and aggressive, saying they would continue to monitor the situation closely. While there were no incursions into another country’s sovereign airspace, such a violation could have seriously inflamed tensions in the region. During their missions, the Russian warplanes also failed to follow proper civil aviation procedures, turning off their transponders and not communicating with air traffic controller, causing additional safety concerns.
Provocative exercises, similar to those seen this week, have become increasingly common in northern Europe. Already this year, NATO fighters have conducted more than 100 interceptions of Russian airplanes, a rate three times higher than in 2013. Moscow’s Navy is being more active in patrolling the seas as well; Swedish intelligence suggests a Russian submarine entered the country’s territorial waters just last week.
The U.S., which used to position infantry and heavy armor in Europe, mostly uses assets stationed on the continent to support operations farther afield. Overall, NATO’s military capabilities continue to deteriorate even as Russia tries to reassert its influence in the region.