NATO intercepts Russian jets near Estonia as Putin prepares military buildup

Spanish and Finnish fighter jets were sent to intercept three Russian planes flying near Estonian air space on Tuesday, the NATO military alliance said in a statement.

The Russian airplanes were identified as two MiG-31 jets and one Antonov AN-26 transport aircraft, NATO said.

“Two Spanish F-18 jets assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled from Estonia’s Amari Air Base,” NATO said.

“Finnish jets also scrambled to intercept the aircraft.”

Intercepts of Russian aircraft by NATO have increased in recent years amid heightened tensions between the West and Moscow over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia is preparing send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

Read More at the Sydney Morning Herald.

US detects ‘highly unusual’ North Korean submarine activity

The US military has detected “highly unusual and unprecedented levels” of North Korean submarine activity and evidence of an “ejection test” in the days following Pyongyang’s second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month, a defense official told CNN on Monday.

An ejection test examines a missile’s “cold-launch system,” which uses high pressure steam to propel a missile out of the launch canister into the air before its engines ignite. That helps prevent flames and heat from the engine from damaging either the submarine, submersible barge or any nearby equipment used to launch the missile.

Carried out on land at Sinpo Naval Shipyard, Sunday’s ejection test is the third time this month — and fourth this year — that North Korea has conducted a trial of the missile component that is critical to developing submarine launch capabilities, according to the US defense official.

Read More at CNN.

Russia warns of further retaliation in response to US sanctions

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov

A top Russian diplomat on Sunday lambasted the United States Congress for voting to sanction Russia, and warned of retaliation by Moscow.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov referred to a bill passed by Congress on Thursday to sanction his country as “weird and unacceptable,” and said it was “the last straw.”

“If the U.S. side decides to move further towards… deterioration, we will answer. We will respond in kind. We will … retaliate,” he said.

Ryabkov’s comments came after Moscow ordered the United States on Friday to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff and said it would seize two U.S. diplomatic properties as a response to the new sanctions that were approved nearly unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Read More at Business Insider.

755 US diplomats must leave Russia: Putin

President Vladimir Putin said 755 US diplomats must leave Russia and warned ties with Washington could be gridlocked for a long time, in a move Sunday that followed tough new American sanctions.

The Russian foreign ministry had earlier demanded Washington cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September to 455 — the same number Moscow has in the US.

“More than a thousand people were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television.

“755 people must stop their activities in Russia.”

Putin added that an upturn in Russia’s relations with Washington could not be expected “any time soon”.

“We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” he said.

“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for any time soon.”

On Thursday, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to toughen sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Read More at Yahoo News.

U.S. analysts say North Korea’s missile test puts U.S. mainland in range: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Saturday the second flight test this month of an intercontinental ballistic missile shows that his country can hit the U.S. mainland, a view shared by U.S. analysts who say a stretch from Los Angeles and Chicago now appears technically within range of the North’s weapons.

Kim, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), expressed “great satisfaction” after the Hwasong-14 missile reached a maximum height of 2,314 miles and flew 620 miles before landing in waters off Japan.

The agency said that the test was aimed at confirming the maximum range and other technical aspects of the missile it says was capable of delivering a “large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead,” according to the Associated Press.

Kim also noted that the rare night launch showed North Korea’s ability to mount a surprise attack. The KCNA quoted him as saying the launch reaffirmed the reliability of the country’s ICBM system and an ability to fire at “random regions and locations at random times” with the “entire” U.S. mainland now within reach.

The July 4 test indicated that Alaska was technically in range, but not the U.S. mainland.

A U.S. expert, David Wright, co-director and senior scientists for the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes Saturday that Friday’s launch sent the missile on a “very highly lofted trajectory” that narrowed its range, but that one flown on a standard trajectory would have a range of 6,500 miles.

A chart of U.S. cities “shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range,” he writes in his blog All Things Nuclear. “Washington, D.C., may be just out of range.”

Read More at USA Today.

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