Russian fighter jets that have been invading European airspace with increasing frequency in recent weeks could pose a threat to commercial airplanes, Pentagon officials warned.
Russia has been conducting a series of military exercises in the North Atlantic, with NATO intercepting 19 aircraft in a span of 24 hours last week. The moves are seen as a test of NATO defenses and an assertion of Russia’s power in the region, though the Pentagon said the threat to civil aviation is very real.
“Well, we certainly don’t see this – these increased flights and activity as helpful to the security situation in Europe,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. “Clearly, they – they pose the potential risk of escalation. They also, quite frankly, could pose just a potential risk to civil aviation just in the sheer number of and size of and scope of these flights. So, they’re not – they’re not exactly helpful.”
“But we’re watching these flights very, very closely. I can tell you that there was another – there were more flights today – NATO-tracked flights out over the Baltics and North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft involved fighter jets, long-range bombers, and tanker aircraft,” Kirby added.
The tension in the North Atlantic is seen as a response to Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. NATO countries have spoken out against Russia’s involvement, and added military forces in the Baltic region earlier this year after Ukraine’s Crimea region aligned with Russia.
Kirby’s warning of the danger Russian fighter jets to civil flights carries extra weight after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The commercial airliner was shot down over Ukraine by Russia-backed rebels. Some witnesses say it may have actually been Russian troops who shot down the plane.
Russian fighter jets and bombers have also been active outside the North Atlantic region. In recent weeks military aircraft have also made incursions into Canadian and American air spaces, with both countries being forced to scramble jets and respond.
[Image via Ria Novosty]