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By Andrew Foxall
Last month, a Russian jet flew within five feet of a U.S. reconnaissance plane near the Baltic Sea. According to U.S. officials, the Russian Su-27 “rapidly” approached the U.S. RC-135 plane and acted “provocatively” by performing “unsafe” maneuvers. Russia’s Defense Ministry, for its part, blamed the U.S. plane for “making a provocative turn towards the Su-27” while being escorted away from Russia’s borders. Whatever the truth about this incident, it serves as a reminder of Moscow’s ceaseless belligerence toward NATO.
Earlier this year, NATO reported an increase in European Quick Reaction Alert aircraft ‘Alpha’ (Air Policing) launches in response to Russian military aircraft from 400 (of a total of 480) in 2014 to 780 (of a total of 807) in 2016. Admittedly, a change in the way that NATO records such events accounts for some of this increase. But there was, nevertheless, a marked increase in Russian military air activity being monitored and responded to across NATO’s two Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) in Europe—at Uedem in Germany, which covers northern Europe north of the Alps, and at Torrejon in Spain, which covers southern Europe south of the Alps.