As the former NSA director pointed out earlier this week: Russia ‘Doesn’t want to go to war with us.’ With that said, Russia’s actions are singing a different tune. For the fourth time this week, Russia has flown fighter jets off the coast of Alaska.
While this does not indicate a military threat, they are ‘flexing their muscles’ so-to-speak and Trump is not known to take that lightly.
The two most recent sightings occurred late Wednesday and on Thursday, with the first involving two IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft and the second involving two Tu-95 nuclear-capable Bear bombers.
Russian aircraft never entered US airspace but the North American Aerospace Defense Command did dispatch US F-22s and Canadian CF-18s jets to perform an intercept during Thursday’s encounter, a NORAD spokesperson told CNN.
On Thursday, the bombers entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone 700 nautical miles southwest of Anchorage — significantly farther from the US coastline than two other encounters that occurred on Monday and Tuesday.
The Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone is a designated region of international airspace, primarily surrounding the US and Canada, that is meant as a buffer to allow for the identification of aircraft heading towards North America.
While these flights pose no real military threat, US defense officials are taking notice of the high frequency at which they’ve occurred this week.
There is “no other way to interpret this other than as strategic messaging,” the official told CNN. While the Russians have not conducted flights of this nature since 2015, another senior defense official stressed that they are “not a concern” and attributed the uptick to a recent lack of available Russian aircraft and need to boost training.
“We haven’t seen this sort of level of activity for a couple of years,” said John Cornelio, a NORAD spokesperson, though he emphasized it was not “unprecedented” or “unusual.” This “shows the value of NORAD and that binational US and Canada relationship,” he said, pointing to the two nations working together to identify and intercept the Russian long-range aircraft.
Earlier in the week, US defense officials called recent sightings of the bombers “nothing out of the ordinary” — itself an indication that both nations are toeing the line between routine military posturing and escalating provocation.
On Monday, US F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace 100 miles from Kodiak Island, Alaska. A US military official called the interaction “safe and professional.”
Less than 24 hours later, a US surveillance aircraft responded to two Russian bombers that were spotted in the same area, this time flying 41 miles off Alaska. The US itself has carried out similar flights along both the Chinese and Russian coasts.
Moscow, for its part, said it “regularly carries out patrol missions above the neutral waters of the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean.”
“All such missions are carried out in strict compliance with international regulations and with respect to national borders,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a written statement.
But this week’s encounter plays into a larger effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin “to prove Russia is back in the game,” according to Howard Stoffer, a former State Department staffer.
“This kind of cat-and-mouse stuff has been going on for a while now,” Stoffer told CNN, adding that Putin “is trying to put the US on notice that the Russians are everywhere and are back to expanding the limits of expanding their military power.” [More on CNN]
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