In another chapter of its military dispute with the United Kingdom, and the West more broadly, Russia sent this Friday (25) two fighters capable of launching a new hypersonic missile for naval air exercises in Syria.
The two MiG-31K interceptors will team up for the first time with Tu-22M3 bombers, anti-submarine patrol planes and five warships, led by the powerful cruiser Moskva.
The exercise has a clear political objective, coming two days after a Russian Coast Guard vessel fired warning shots at a British destroyer in the Black Sea, sparking a new crisis between Moscow and a NATO country ( western military alliance).
Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is operating with a naval group in the Mediterranean and last week launched its first F-35B fighter jets to attack the remaining targets of the Islamic State terrorist group in the Arab country .
So, as the dominant foreign power in the context of the Syrian civil war, where it supports dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia reminds the UK of this condition with the flexing of military muscles in the same region.
All of this is yet another reverberation of Wednesday’s action (23) near the Crimean coast, the region Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 to prevent the pro-Western government installed after the overthrow of its pro-predecessor Moscow to join NATO.
The alliance does not accept countries with outstanding territorial issues in its ranks, and the international community does not recognize Crimea as Russian, although this is a political fait accompli.
Vladimir Putin’s government has made it clear that it views the region’s waters as its own with Wednesday’s action, in which it said it also dropped bombs from Su-24 fighter-bomber planes on the way. destroyer HMS Defender, which London has denied to have taken place.
For the British, the transit from Ukraine to Georgia was carried out in international waters and also belonging to Kiev.
In addition, Putin seeks to strengthen his internal position as inflexible in the face of a Western threat. This could serve both to increase the crackdown on opponents, whom he accuses of being foreign agents, and to improve the bad reputation of the party supporting the Kremlin in the parliamentary elections in September.
The MiG-31Ks are modernized versions of the world’s fastest fighter, which intercepts targets at speeds up to three times the speed of sound. They carry the Kinjal missiles (dagger, in Russian), which entered service three years ago and had their first aerial launch in 2019.
They are hypersonic weapons, which fly perhaps up to ten times the speed of sound, with autonomous maneuverability. They were designed to hit land targets, but also ships – aircraft carriers and anti-missile defense devices.
Obviously, they will not be used, unless there is a tragic mistake. But just as the British and Americans aboard the Queen Elizabeth have demonstrated that they are operational in a backyard with a strong Russian presence, they are a message to NATO.
Of the 18 F-35B fighters on the ship’s deck, 10 are operated by the US Marine Corps. The Queen Elizabeth will always transit to the Indo-Pacific, the West’s strategic shock zone with China – and also Russia, which maintains a fleet in the region.
The presence of F-35s in the region also gives the Russians the opportunity to study the effectiveness of their anti-aircraft systems in locating planes, stealthily on radar. Russia has installed advanced S-400 batteries at its Syrian air base.
The fact that Moscow sold them to Turkey led the country, which is a member of NATO, to be excluded from the international F-35 consortium, among other things because it could expose the secrets of the plane to others. Russian equipment.
Meanwhile, tensions continue, building on the renewed US aggression under President Joe Biden against Russia and Putin’s growing crackdown on local opposition.
This year alone, animosity has led to new U.S. sanctions, the deployment of Russian troops to pressure Ukraine not to attack pro-Kremlin separatists in the eastern part of the country, swaps and intense military movement in the Baltic and Black Seas.
Putin has also stepped up his military cooperation with China, which helped put the Asian country on NATO’s perceived risk list at its summit last week. Moscow remains the greatest threat, as it was when the alliance was founded in 1949.
Also last week, the Russian and American leaders met in Geneva, without much concrete progress. The European Union discussed doing the same this week, but on Friday dropped the idea under pressure from members to the east of the club, who are Russia’s most fearful.