Russia’s air force commander on Tuesday accused the United States and its NATO allies of provoking confrontation over the Baltic Sea by sending spy planes near the Russian border “practically every day.”
In apparent response to accusations from NATO military officials that a Russian jet flying a stealth mission nearly caused a collision with an SAS commercial jet last week, Russian Air Force commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said at a news briefing in Moscow that the Western alliance has “massively” stepped up aerial surveillance of Russia’s air defense capabilities.
“In 2014, the number of flights by reconnaissance aircraft of the United States and NATO countries over territories of the Baltic countries, the Baltic and Barents seas has increased considerably,” Bondarev said, estimating that NATO typically conducts eight to 12 such flights a week.
“Strategic reconnaissance aircraft RC-135 of the U.S. Air Force perform flights practically every day,” the Tass news agency quoted Bondarev as saying. He put the number of RC-135 flights in the vicinity of Russian borders at 140 so far this year, compared with 22 in 2013.
As relations between the former Cold War adversaries have plunged into a new phase of distrust over Kremlin aggression against Ukraine, Russian and NATO surveillance aircraft have taken to the skies in rival shows of force over the Baltic region, which was under Soviet domination for most of the previous century.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union at the advent of World War II, but have spun into the Western security orbit since breaking free of Moscow’s control amid the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. All three former Soviet Baltic republics are now part of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as are Baltic Sea littoral states Poland and what was Communist East Germany during the Cold War era.