A Russian spy plane flew perilously close to the territorial waters of a NATO country, Latvia, on Thursday — forcing a squadron of NATO F-16 fighter jets to take to the skies, where they cut off the Russian plane and sent it packing. The apparent provocation by Russia is just the latest in a year when NATO countries, as well as non-NATO allies such as Japan, have been goaded by Russian planes into scrambling jets three times more often than in 2013.
Conflict In Ukraine Leads To Stepped-Up Russian Plane Missions
Conflict continues in Ukraine, where pro-Russia forces are battling the recently-installed Ukraine government, after former President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted earlier this year following a popular uprising.
Yanukovich was closely aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while the new government headed by new president Petro Poroshennko — a billionaire business tycoon — has taken a pro-European stance, and aspires to align Ukraine with the European Union states.
Latvian Army Announces Latest Russian Plane Intercept Via Twitter
Latvia is a Baltic nation that shares a border with Russia, placing the country is an especially sensitive position. But Latvia is also a NATO member nation. The Latvian Army announced the latest intercept of a Russian plane by NATO jets on its official Twitter account.
NATO Baltic Air Policing QRA F16 jets on 6 NOV scrambled to intercept RU Armed Forces Il-20 over the Baltic Sea.
— NBS (@Latvijas_armija) November 6, 2014
Russian Plane Flights Into NATO Territory A Return To Cold War Tactics
The stepped-up Russian plane flights along the margins of NATO airspace in 2014 have been called a form of “shoe banging” on Putin’s part, a reference to a 1960 incident in which Soviet Union Premier Nikita Kruschev removed his show and banged it on the podium as he delivered an address to the United Nations.
Kruschev’s message, essentially, was that he was so highly unpredictable, even crazy, that if provoked by the West, he just might start World War 3.
The shoe-banging incident was seen as a defining moment of the Cold War, and Putin’s fly-bys with his Russian jets and spy planes are seen by foreign policy analysts as a return to Soviet-style Cold War tactics of intimidation. While no serious expert expects Putin to start World War 3, he wants the West to believe that he is capable of doing so, the experts say.
The Russian plane run off by the NATO F-16s near Latvia was, perhaps fittingly, a Cold War-era spy plane that flies by turbo prop, not with jet engines. The Russian IL-20 surveillance plane was first built in 1969, and was adapted into a military spy plane from the IL-18 Soviet airliner.