Russia has reported a seven-fold increase in reconnaisance missions by U.S. and NATO aircraft near its border on the Baltic Sea since April as tensions flared over the crisis in Ukraine.
Russian fighter jets also flew more than 300 missions in response to NATO and other foreign military aircraft approaching the country’s borders this year, compared with more than 200 in 2013, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s joint military command center, said in answer to e-mailed questions.
The sharp increase in air activity by NATO and countries including Sweden and Finland is taking place without “any mutual exchange of information,” Mizintsev said today in his first interview with foreign media. “All achievements in the field of trust-building and voluntary transparency that NATO and Russia have formed over the years have ceased.”
Russia’s disclosures about North Atlantic Treaty Organization activities around its borders come as it’s embroiled in the worst standoff since the Cold War with the U.S. and its allies over the conflict in Ukraine. It mirrors NATO reports of a jump in Russian military flights close to the borders of member states.
The number of flights by NATO’s tactical aircraft close to the borders of Russia and Belarus doubled to about 3,000 this year, Mizintsev said.
He rejected NATO’s claim that it had intercepted Russian aircraft some 400 times this year, a 50 percent increase on 2013. NATO jets escorted Russian planes 140 times in 2014, a 70 percent increase on the previous year, while they flew missions that were “in strict compliance with international rules,” Mizintsev said.
NATO will remain vigilant in tracking Russian flights, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters today after a meeting at the military alliance’s Brussels headquarters with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Mizintsev said Russia registered 55 cases of foreign jets flying in “dangerous proximity” to its long-range military aircraft, at a distance of less than 100 meters, in 2013-14. Russia’s missions were “as risky as NATO aircraft flights near the Russian border can be considered risky,” he said.
Russia is also concerned about increased tensions caused by the presence of NATO ships in the Black Sea, Mizintsev said. Sevastopol in Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in March, is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission intercepted 80 Russian aircraft on 21 occasions near the borders of Baltic states last week, a record, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said in a statement today. Most of the Russian planes flew with their transponders turned off, it said.
Sweden and Denmark summoned Russia’s ambassadors today to express their displeasure after an incident in which a passenger plane leaving Copenhagen on Dec. 12 was forced to change direction to avoid colliding with a Russian military jet. The civilian plane was leased by Scandinavia’s joint state-controlled airline SAS AB. (SAS)
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov denied the surveillance plane had broken international airspace rules or had endangered civilian aircraft. The Russian aircraft was 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the passenger plane, RIA Novosti cited him as saying.