U.S., allies scramble jets almost daily to repel Russian incursions

Russian military provocations have increased so much over the seven months since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine that Washington and its allies are scrambling defense assets on a nearly daily basis in response to air, sea and land incursions by Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Not only is Moscow continuing to foment unrest in Eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials and regional security experts say Russian fighter jets are testing U.S. reaction times over Alaska and Japan’s ability to scramble planes over its northern islands — all while haunting Sweden’s navy and antagonizing Estonia’s tiny national security force.

The White House months ago leveled economic sanctions on several Russian businesses and political players, and recent weeks have seen President Obama intensify his rhetoric toward Moscow. But many in Washington’s national security community say the response is simply not firm enough and that, as a result, Mr. Putin actually feels emboldened to push the envelope — Cold War-style.

“What’s going on is a radical escalation of aggressive Russian muscle flexing and posturing designed to demonstrate that Russia is no longer a defeated power of the Cold War era,” says Ariel Cohen, who heads the Center for Energy, National Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.

“The more we retreat, the more we are encouraging Russia to behave in a more aggressive way,” Mr. Cohen said. “We need to be engaging more deeply with our Central Asian allies, but instead we are in the process of abandoning turf to Russia, and it’s wrong — it’s against our interests geopolitically to let Russia feel that they all of a sudden have won all the turf without firing a shot.”

The Obama administration resists such characterizations, asserting that the White House is doing anything but “retreating.”

To the contrary, administration officials say they’re bolstering U.S. support to NATO and several non-NATO Baltic states specifically to confront Mr. Putin. They also assert that the current economic downturn inside Russia — where inflation is reported to have crested to 8 percent in recent weeks — is driven as much by a dip in global oil prices as by the slate of sanctions leveled by the White House in response to Russian meddling in Ukraine.

He also threatened to “impose a cost on Russia for aggression.”

Mr. Obama’s comments were followed this month by the deployment of some 20 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks and roughly 700 U.S. troops across Poland and three Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — a move military officials said was designed to send a message that serious Russian aggression in the area could mean war with NATO.

But Mr. Putin has appeared undeterred. NATO officials confirmed this week that the Russian air force flew an Ilyushin-20 spy plane into Estonian airspace Tuesday, triggering a swift reaction from NATO fighter jets patrolling the area.

The incursion came just days after Sweden made international headlines by scrambling a fleet of naval vessels to search for a suspected submarine sighted about 30 miles off the coast of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea.

Swedish authorities avoided pinning the incident directly on Russia, and Moscow denied involvement. But regional analysts like Mr. Cohen say they’d be surprised if the sub was not Russian.

The development, the analysts say, fits within a growing list of similar Russian actions, including some directly challenging U.S. territory.

Full article: U.S., allies scramble jets almost daily to repel Russian incursions (Washington Times)

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