During a scene that would not be out of place in a Cold War blockbuster, Russian jets flew over a large NATO maritime exercise consisting of dozens of ships and aircraft that were operating in international waters in Baltic Sea on Monday evening. A sailor from USS San Antonio, an amphibious assault ship, was able to capture the moment, showing two unidentified jets flying at low altitude and high speed over the ships. The footage was published on Youtube by the U.S. Navy.
“Sailors and Marines enjoy an air show courtesy of the Russian air force during #BALTOPS2015,” read the posting.
Along with the ships, around 5,600 ground troops are taking part in the joint exercise, which began Tuesday and will end on June 19.
“The goal of these at-sea scenarios is to sustain partnerships, knowledge and skill sets across a broad range of mission areas to strengthen the capabilities of both individual services and our international force,” said the official U.S. BALTOPS website.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has suspended all the Tu-95 Bear bomber flights after a strategic bomber suffered an incident in Russia’s Far East.
“The Tu-95 ran over the runway during acceleration. There was no ammunition onboard. According to preliminary information, engine fire was the cause behind the accident,” Russia’s MoD said according to a report posted by Interfax news agency.
Five crew members were aboard the Bear bomber that skidded off the runway and caught fire at Ukrainka airfield: one crew member was killed and another seriously injured following the incident.
As a consequence, the Russian MoD has ground the Tu-95 fleet pending investigation: this was the second incident involving a Bear bomber in two years. In 2013, a Bear was damaged after fire started behind the cockpit while the aircraft was taxing down the runway preparing for departure.
The Tu-95 is a +60-year old Russian four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. The aircraft is often intercepted by U.S. and NATO planes during routine long-range missions across the world.
In an interview with the Italian website Corriere della Sera, Russian president Vladimir Putin made revealing statements regarding his stance on NATO.
In the West, Putin’s Russia is largely seen as acting downright aggressively towards Ukraine and Crimea, causing many eastern European countries to bolster their defense programs and act cautiously in regards to Russia.
Putin made it clear in this interview that he thought it was NATO and the US that the world ought to fear.
“US military spending is higher than that of all countries in the world taken together,” Putin told the Italian news website. “The aggregate military spending of NATO countries is 10 times, note – 10 times higher than that of the Russian Federation.”
He stressed that Russia has virtually no military bases abroad, and that they’ve been happy to disarm and disband his foreign holdings while the US has maintained theirs: “We have dismantled our bases in various regions of the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, and so on. This means that our policy in this respect is not global, offensive or aggressive.”
Putin contests that Russia’s increasingly provocative behavior is defensive, saying: “Everything we do is just a response to the threats emerging against us.”
It seems that NATO’s expansion is what really irks Putin: “We are not expanding anywhere; it is NATO infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that is moving towards our borders.”
Hundreds of NATO troops with heavy equipment began a military exercise in Poland on Tuesday, testing the alliance’s rapid response readiness in the face of new security challenges on its eastern flank.
The so-called spearhead force was agreed upon at a NATO summit last year in reaction to Russia’s role in the separatist fighting in Ukraine which has raised security concerns in other nearby nations that were once under Moscow’s dominance.
“It is our unconditional priority to have NATO’s eastern flank strengthened,” Deputy Foreign Minister Henryka Moscicka-Dendys said when asked about the role of the Noble Jump exercises. “I feel safe.
“The deployment exercise began with German and Dutch troops arriving near the southwestern Polish city of Zielona Gora to test the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. It will soon move to a test range in nearby Zagan, where more than 2,000 troops will train.
A mobilization exercise was held in April in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The current exercise tests deployment procedures by road, rail and air.
Allied Shield exercises will be held this summer in the region and will involve 14,000 troops from 19 NATO members and three partner nations.
A multinational naval exercise opened on the Baltic Sea last week.
Russia has refused to sign off on the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s annual report because the document lists a nuclear reactor near Crimea’s Sevastopol as being in Ukraine, two diplomats present at the meeting told Reuters on Monday.
Russia annexed Crimea last year, but most countries still consider it part of Ukraine. Monday’s move by Russia is unlikely to block the report, but raises serious questions about jurisdiction in the contested area.
Ukraine protested against Russia’s move at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s quarterly board of governors meeting, one Western diplomat said.