NATO Secretary General Applauds Jacksonville-based Fighter Wing’s Role as Tensions Rise Amid Crisis in Ukraine

Amid growing anxiety in Europe over Russian intervention in the Ukraine, NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg visited Jacksonville and its 125th Fighter Wing on Thursday.

About 200 members of the Florida Air National Guard wing and 12 of its F-15C fighters have been deployed to Eastern Europe since March, flying sorties and working with air forces in Bulgaria, The Netherlands and others.

Understandably, during a briefing by Brig. Gen. James Eifert and the 125th’s commanding officer, Col. Brian Simpler, Stoltenberg’s questions focused around the Russian threat and what the Air National Guard could do about it.

“Do you do a lot of intercepts of other planes approaching your airspace?” Stoltenberg asked. “Are there Russian planes?”

Simpler said his unit has trained for that mission and is capable of it. Maj. Gen. Robert Branyon cited an instance where it happened.

“Last year, [a Russian bomber] left from somewhere in the eastern part of Russia and they came down to San Francisco,” Branyon said. “Alaska had F-22s intercept them and Canadians intercepted them.”

Robert Bell, defense advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said the move was absolutely intentional.

“The Russians were clearly sending a message,” Bell said. “They came north to south down the West Coast and made a left turn, like a simulated bombing run at San Francisco, went right into the air defense identification zone and penetrated it.

“It wasn’t accidental, you don’t fly that far and fly a flight profile like that unless you’re …”

Branyon added it was the first time the Russians sent fighter escorts along with the bomber.

Read More Here at the Florida Times-Union

Baltics Mull Joint Air Defence System Against Russia

From Yahoo! News:

NATO Fighter Planes Over Lithuania

NATO Fighter Planes Over Lithuania

Panevezys (Lithuania) (AFP) – Defence ministers for the three Baltic states said Thursday they are mulling a joint air defence system in response to security concerns over Russia’s activity in the region.

 The ministers of NATO-members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania met in the northern Lithuanian city of Panevezys along with their Ukrainian counterpart, at a time when their relations with Russia are at a post-Soviet low over the Ukraine crisis.

“We plan to analyse the possibility of developing a medium-range air defence system to strengthen our defence capabilities,” Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told reporters.

“External threats lead us to cooperate more,” he said, referring to neighbour and Soviet-era master Russia, which has spooked the region with its intervention in Ukraine.

Read More here at Yahoo

Incoming NATO Military Committee Chairman: Russia Could Occupy The Baltics in 2 days If It Wanted To

From Business Insider:

909px-Flag_map_of_NATO_Countries_(Europe)The future chairman of the NATO Military Committee has issued some dire warnings about Russia’s ability to occupy the Baltic States.

Czech General Petr Pavel, who is scheduled to become chairman in June, warned on May 27th that Moscow would be able to conquer the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania within two days even despite the former Soviet republics’ NATO membership, according to the Czech news site CTK.

This is largely due to the complexity of the NATO decision-making process, along with the small geographic area of the Baltics. Russia could take advantage of NATO’s relatively slow-moving command structure to blitz across the three countries in a matter of hours.

“On the one hand, one of [NATO´s] disadvantages is its complex process of decision making. It is because NATO has 28 members who have to reach consensus on all conclusions,” Pavel told CTK.

“From the technical point of view, if I consider how many forces Russia is able to deploy in the Baltics, the size of the Baltic countries and the density of forces on their territories, the Baltics could really be occupied in a couple of days.”

Read more here at the Business Insider

Putin denies Russian troops are in Ukraine, decrees certain deaths secret

From the Washington Post:

MOSCOW — If there was one weak spot in Russian support for the Kremlin’s aims in Ukraine this year, it was the population’s strong aversion to sending in Russian troops — something Russia denies doing, despite mounting international evidence to the contrary.

Now, Russia can ignore that evidence — as well as any questions citizens might raise — since President Vladimir Putin signed a decree classifying certain peacetime deaths of soldiers as state secrets.

Putin signed an order Thursday making the deaths of Russian troops lost during “special operations” a secret, amending a previous decree that limited such secrecy to deaths of soldiers in wartime. Some watchers can see only one plausible reason for the change: Russia is gearing up for another military push into Ukraine.

“We’re in a pre-war situation. Right now there’s going to be another campaign in Ukraine,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst based in Moscow, who added that Russia was being secret about losses because “we’re fighting a secret war.”

But war brings about the sort of casualties that can serve as proof of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, Felgenhauer pointed out.

“If foreigners know about the losses of soldiers in Donbass, that’s not very good,” he said, using a term that refers to eastern Ukraine.“But more important is that the Russian public doesn’t know. So it’s going to be a secret, as it was in Soviet times.”

Russia has long denied its troops are operating in Ukraine, dismissing as fabrications reports of training camps, troop buildups and even the testimony of captured Russian soldiers claiming to be on active duty.

Read More here at the Washington Post.

Russia Masses Heavy Firepower on Border with Ukraine – Witness

From Reuters:

Tanks are seen on a freight train shortly after its arrival at a railway station in the Russian southern town of Matveev Kurgan, near the Russian-Ukrainian border in Rostov region, Russia, May 26, 2015. Picture taken with a mobile phone. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova

Tanks are seen on a freight train shortly after its arrival at a railway station in the Russian southern town of Matveev Kurgan, near the Russian-Ukrainian border in Rostov region, Russia, May 26, 2015. Picture taken with a mobile phone. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova

Russia’s army is massing troops and hundreds of pieces of weaponry including mobile rocket launchers, tanks and artillery at a makeshift base near the border with Ukraine, a Reuters reporter saw this week.

Many of the vehicles have number plates and identifying marks removed while many of the servicemen had taken insignia off their fatigues. As such, they match the appearance of some of the forces spotted in eastern Ukraine, which Kiev and its Western allies allege are covert Russian detachments.

The scene at the base on the Kuzminsky firing range, around 50 km (30 miles) from the border, offers some of the clearest evidence to date of what appeared to be a concerted Russian military build-up in the area.

Earlier this month, NATO military commander General Philip Breedlove said he believed the separatists were taking advantage of a ceasefire that came into force in February to re-arm and prepare for a new offensive. However, he gave no specifics.

Russia denies that its military is involved in the conflict in Ukraine’s east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting forces loyal to the pro-Western government in Kiev.

Russia’s defense ministry said it had no immediate comment about the build-up. Several soldiers said they had been sent to the base for simple military exercises, suggesting their presence was unconnected to the situation in Ukraine.

Asked by Reuters if large numbers of unmarked weaponry and troops without insignia at the border indicated that Russia planned to invade Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call with reporters:

“I find the wording of this question, ‘if an invasion is being prepared’, inappropriate as such.”

The weapons being delivered there included Uragan multiple rocket launchers, tanks and self-propelled howitzers — all weapon types that have been used in the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kiev’s forces and separatists.

Read the complete article here at Reuters.

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