23rd Oct 2016

Russian military trying to intimidate Nato, report says

Russia has, in parallel with its war on Ukraine, instigated almost 40 “highly disturbing” anti-Nato incidents, a new British report says.

The survey - Dangerous Brinkmanship, by the London-based think-tank ELN, out on Monday (10 November) - notes that what happened to flight MH17 over Ukraine in July almost happened over Sweden three months earlier.

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  • Russian actions are 'adding to an atmosphere of tension' and risk causing 'loss of life' (Photo: Defence Images)

It says that on 3 March an SAS 737 passenger jet, carrying 132 people from Copenhagen to Rome, had a near miss close to Malmo, Sweden, with a Russian reconaissance plane which had failed to transmit its position.

It adds that “major loss of life” was avoided only due to “good visibility and the alertness of the passenger pilots”.

It lists 11 other “serious incidents” which risked “escalation”.

On 12 April, a Russian fighter jet made 12 “agressive” passes over a US warship in the Black Sea, while the next day a Russian jet undertook “threatening manoeuvres” next to a US reconaissance plane over the Sea of Okhotsk.

In June, armed Russian bombers simulated an attack on the Danish island of Bornholm. On 16 July, an armed Russian jet flew within 10 metres of a Swedish surveillance plane in international airspace in the Baltic region. Two days later, Russian jets also “chased” a US reconaissance plane into Swedish airspace.

In early September, Russian strategic bombers near Canada “practiced cruise missile strikes” on the US and Russian jets “buzzed” a Canadian frigate in the Black Sea.

Later the same month, two Russian bombers entered Swedish airspace near the Oland island, while in October a Russian jet came “within metres” of crashing into a Swedish surveillance plane over the Baltic Sea.

The ELN report classifies the rest of the incidents as “near-routine” in terms of how Russia and Nato test and shadow each other’s capabilities.

But it notes that the “increased number” of events from the Russian side in the past eight months is “adding to an atmosphere of tension”.

Some of them, while “near-routine” for specialists, are also likely to cause fear in civilian onlookers.

In one almost-normal incident, on 10 April, two Russian naval ships entered Lithuania’s maritime zone during a Russian “live-fire” drill, causing “serious disruptions” to commercial shipping.

In other figures, the ELN paper says that up to October this year Nato jets carried out more than 100 “intercepts” of Russian military aircraft - three times the whole number for last year.

Nato “air-police” also carried out 68 “hot identification and interdiction” operations on the Lithuanian border alone. Latvia recorded more than 150 incidents of Russian planes approaching its airspace, while Russian aircraft violated Estonian air on six occasions.

The report notes that Russian armed forces “seem to have been authorised and encouraged” to act in a “much more aggressive” way toward Nato and to non-Nato Western allies Finland and Sweden.

It says Russia’s actions amount to “intimidation and coercion” of its neighbours, sending the message, for instance, to Finland and Sweden that there will be “more harassment” if they join the Western military alliance.

It notes Russia is trying to “undermine the confidence” of Baltic states that Nato is capable of defending them.

With the West hesitating to arm the Ukrainian military in its war with Russian regular and irregular forces, Russia is also trying to show it “has the means and the willingness to confront Nato … in the even of a conflict”.

Meanwhile, the air acrobatics are meant to serve Kremlin “propaganda” and “boost” Russian military “morale” in the face a technologically superior adversary.

The ELN authors urge Russia to cool off and urge Nato to increase military-to-military diplomacy and transparency.

They warn that if, in future, an incident leads to loss of life on either side, it could prompt “punitive military action” and “feed a spiral” of confrontation between “a nuclear-armed state and a nuclear-armed alliance” which “may be difficult for either side to fully control or stop”.

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