BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO on Wednesday reported an “unusual” spike in Russian military flights over the Black, Baltic and North seas and the Atlantic Ocean during the past two days.
Alliance military spokesman Lt. Col. Jay Janzen that four groups made up of Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers, MiG-31 fighters and other Russian warplanes had been conducting large-scale maneuvers in international airspace.
He said Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish and Turkish fighters were scrambled in response, as well as planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden.
No incidents were reported, but Janzen said the maneuvers were unusual in their size. He said NATO was still tracking some of the Russian planes as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.
Tensions have been running high between NATO and Russia since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March. According to NATO officials, alliance pilots have conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year, or about three times more than in 2013.
Brynjar Stordal, spokesman for the operational command of Norway’s armed forces, said Norwegian F-16s intercepted one formation of Bear bombers and tankers west of Norway.The tankers turned back north, he said, but the bombers kept flying south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.
“We’ve had several of these incidents, around 40 a year,” Stordal said. “What sets this apart from some of the missions we see from the Russian side is the formation was a little bit larger than we usually see and they went a bit further south than they usually do.”
NATO chief: Strong alliance for better Russia ties
BRUSSELS (AP) — Only a strong Western security alliance can negotiate better ties with Russia, NATO’s new secretary general said Tuesday.
Jens Stoltenberg said his experience as Norway’s prime minister was that robust defense capabilities and a solid trans-Atlantic bond were fundamental requirements in order to bring about constructive relations with Russia.
In his first policy speech since taking office Oct. 1, Stoltenberg said there was no contradiction between wanting to keep NATO strong and continuing efforts to engage with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“NATO is here to stay. Russia is here to stay. So we’re going to have some kind of relationship,” Stoltenberg said. “(The question is) what kind?”
Norway’s status as a member of the U.S.-led defense alliance, Stoltenberg said, meant his small nation has been able to deal confidently with the Kremlin on a whole range of issues, from military matters and fisheries to energy, the environment and maritime border disputes.
“I believe there is a lesson here for us now,” the former two-time Norwegian prime minister said. “That only a strong NATO can build a truly constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia.”
“But to get there, Russia would need to want it, and to take clear steps to make it possible,” he added.
Stoltenberg also said he has been in contact with the United Nations to see if there is any “specific” role NATOcould play in helping combat the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.
He noted that some of the alliance’s 28 nations, including the United States and Britain, have already sent military forces to West Africa but said it was “too early” to say whether NATO itself should take part.