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What's Behind 'Unprecedented' Number of Russia-NATO Aerial Intercepts



The number of reconnaissance aircraft intercepted along Russia’s border from June 12-18 was unprecedented, even by Cold War standards, according to Russian military expert Konstantin Sivkov.

Earlier, the official newspaper of the Russian Defense Ministry "Krasnaya Zvezda" reported that in the last week (June 12-18) Russian jet fighters conducted 14 intercepts of foreign reconnaissance planes near the Russian border.

A total of 23 reconnaissance flights were performed near the Russian border. In particular, there were 10 flights by US aircraft, including the RC-135 and the Global Hawk strategic drone. 

Four flights were conducted by the Norwegian air force on an R-3C Orion reconnaissance plane. 

The Swedish aviation conducted three flights. Britain and France performed two reconnaissance flights each.

According to the newspaper, the intercepts were conducted by MiG-31 and Su-27 jets of the Russian air defense alert forces.

For example, on June 19, an RC-135 plane was identified and intercepted by a Su-27 jet over the Baltic Sea while approaching the Russian border.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the RC-135 crew had carried out a provocative turn toward Russia's Su-27, adding that the Russian pilot reacted to the maneuver and kept escorting the reconnaissance plane until it changed its direction of flight away from the Russian border. 

Ten minutes after the incident, another RC-135 entered the zone, which was also intercepted by the Russian Su-27, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

"The number is unprecedented, especially taking into account the fact that there is no Cold War today. At that time, we saw an average of seven-eight interecepts a week. 

But today the number is much higher," Konstantin Sivkov, a Russian military analyst and president of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, said.

The expert expressed concern over the situation because the majority of the intercepts occurred in the European part of Russia.

Sivkov pointed out that the activity may be related to the balance of power in the Syrian conflict, which is currently not in favor of the US and its allies.

"Now, the Syrian Army and its allies may reach the Syria-Jordan border and cut opposition forces from American bases in Jordan, which would be unacceptable for the US. 

This is why the Pentagon launched strikes on Syrian forces. They are testing the waters," Sivkov said.

He suggested that it cannot be ruled out that Moscow will support Syrian forces, which means the risk of a military confrontation between the US and Russia in Syria.

"This is the reason while the US and its NATO allies have increased the number of reconnaissance flights near Russia’s border," he concluded.

In turn, former commander of the Russian Air Force Pyotr Deinekin said that the increase in NATO’s reconnaissance activity can be explained by a recent exercise of the alliance in the Baltic Sea.

"As for the Baltic Sea, the reason is that NATO held drills there and US aircraft, including RC-135 and B-52 strategic bombers, were flying over neutral waters there. 

In addition, there was an incident when NATO jets flew by a Russian plane carrying the Russian defense minister," he said.

On June 21, a NATO F-16 fighter aircraft made an attempt to approach the plane carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over neutral Baltic waters, but was promptly chased away by a Russian Su-27 fighter jet.

Furthermore, Deinekin said that the number of reconnaissance flights near the Russian border is normal.

"Taking into account the size of Russia’s territory, it is quite normal," he said.

He added that Russian jets are scrambled each time when it is needed to identify an object approaching the Russian border.

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