Whose planes over whose borders (Ambassador Yakovenko, for Russia Today)
The extraordinary hysteria launched in the British media after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon accused Russia of preparing an attack against the Baltic states and of repeated violations of aviation safety rules warrants some clarifications regarding the actual scope of Russia's and NATO's air forces activities.
Russian strategic bombers do regularly fly to remote geographical areas and will continue to do so. This is necessary in terms of training flight personnel and verifying aircraft capabilities.
All flights are carried out in strict accordance with international regulations regarding the use of airspace. Aircraft fly over high seas without entering the airspace and violating the borders of other states, the fact that can be confirmed by radar data for each case. Flights of Russian military aircraft are almost always accompanied by jets from NATO countries and their partners. This is ordinary practice, and the level of public attention towards the latest incidents involving Russian aircraft in the vicinity of British airspace is purely artificial.
Meanwhile, military activity of NATO aircraft at Russian borders is far more intense. Starting from 2014, the intensity of operations of NATO reconnaissance planes over the territory of the Baltic countries, the Baltic and Barents Seas in close proximity to Russian borders has increased significantly and amounts to 8-12 sorties per week. US Air Force RC-135s conduct operations on an almost daily basis: more than 140 sorties in 2014, compared to 22 in 2013. Spy planes from Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Portugal (the latter's aircraft are temporarily based in Lithuania) regularly monitor the activities of the Russian armed forces in the Kaliningrad Region and over the Baltic Sea.
The picture is similar in the Black Sea area: AWACS aircraft are actively used from air force bases in Germany, Turkey and Greece, and sometimes even from the UK and France. These aircraft have increased the intensity of their duty in Romanian and Polish airspace from two sorties per month in January - February 2014 to 40-60 monthly since March 2014. The total number of sorties in March - December 2014 reached 460, compared to just 20 over the same period in 2013.
The number of tactical fighter jets permanently based in the Baltic states in order to patrol their airspace has increased from 4 to 14. They represent air forces of Canada, Portugal and Germany. The two Dutch, two British and two Canadian jets stationed in Poland and Romania have been reinforced on a rotating basis by US/NATO squadrons of up to 12 warplanes.
Overall, the number of sorties of NATO tactical warplanes near Russian and Belarusian borders increased twice in 2014 compared with 2013, and reached 3,000. By way of comparison, over the same period, Russian reconnaissance aircraft carried out just over 200 sorties over the Baltic Sea area compared to 125 sorties in 2013.
It is difficult to avoid the impression of NATO persistently increasing its military capabilities in its eastern member states. Allegations of a “Russian threat” are a convenient pretext for these activities. The question remains open whether their actual aim is just to ensure high military spending and a good level of “Euro-Atlantic solidarity”, or to prepare ground for some aggressive actions against Russian interests. The growing disparity between the actual situation and the official rhetoric of some Western leaders is not helpful for restoring trust, which is probably the main victim of the current crisis in Russia - West relations.