In the midst of a tense week in relations between the West and Russia, Moscow has stepped up the routine of sending military planes to test the reaction capability of opponents over the Baltic Sea.
The region is one of the most acute points of friction in the world, with NATO air forces (Western Military Alliance) and allied Nordic countries in direct contact with the Russians.
Notable action took place on the 9th, when President Joe Biden landed in the UK for his European tour, where he met with G7 and NATO leaders, which ended on Wednesday (16 ) by the summit meeting with Russian Vladimir Putin. Two Italian F-35s intercepted an An-12 transport plane that was escorted by at least one Su-30 fighter armed with air-to-air missiles.
The situation attracted the attention of analysts, as freighters generally do not have an escort, and it was speculated that the Russians did not just want to attract the F-35s to closely analyze their flight characteristics in close proximity to them. sensors from one of their main hunters. .
The US F-35 is an aircraft equipped with stealth radar technologies and, after years of costly development and delays, it is in operation with several NATO forces. He is considered, despite his problems, to be the most advanced hunter in the world.
Italian planes have been based in Estonia since April as part of NATO’s patrol in the region. The country and the other Baltic states, Lithuania and Latvia, are former Soviet alliance members and do not have their own air forces to deal with the intense Russian activity around them.
Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the alliance set up an expeditionary force to operate in the region on behalf of the protection of its vulnerable partners.
As early as Tuesday (15), the day after Biden signed the joint declaration by NATO leaders in which Russia appears as the main threat to the security of its members, there was a more dramatic interception.
Two supersonic bombers with nuclear capability Tu-160 left their bases in southern Russia and traveled to the Gulf of Finland, entering neutral Baltic Sea airspace escorted by four fighters, two Su -35 aerospace and two Su-27, an older model, of the Baltic fleet.
They flew to Kaliningrad, the Russian stronghold between Lithuania and Poland, and made their way home. Along the way, they were intercepted by the same Italian F-35s and by F-16s from Norway, another NATO member.
In addition, Sweden, neutral but close to the alliance, sent a Gripen fighter, the last model that Brazil receives.
Such actions occur frequently, but there has been a significant increase in reporting from late 2020 until now. There are generally around 300 Western interceptions per year, and NATO has 60 fighters ready to intervene on the continent.
With the tension of the Belarusian dictatorship’s crackdown on the opposition last August and the concentration of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border in April this year, the Russians have announced that they will step up activities in the Western Military District, which extends over the region. Baltic.
According to the Russian aerospace forces, there has been an increase in incursions by NATO aircraft into close proximity to the country’s airspace both in the region and in the Black Sea, where they mainly operate P- spy planes. 8 Poseidon.
This ballet also takes place between American and Allied forces in the Pacific, where they frequently clash with China, and in Alaska, where they come face to face with the Russians. In the Arctic, a region the Kremlin considers its own, the United States has also made inroads.
In addition to mutual readiness testing and the possible evaluation of competing equipment, there is the political pressure that accompanies such actions.
The danger, experts warn, is that of unintentional shocks or human errors that ultimately lead to accidents. Last year, a joint Russian-Chinese mission was nearly shot down in South Korea, for example.