A Russian spy plane nearly missed ramming a passenger jet taking off from a Danish airport with 132 passengers on board as the Russian plane conducted a spying mission over the country on March 3, according to a new report by the European Leadership network that found the continuing "dangerous brinksmanship" by Russia to be at the highest level since the end of the Cold War more than 20 years ago.
The terrifying March 3 near-miss, between the SAS Airlines jet taking off from Copenhagen on its way to Rome and a Russian spy plane, was avoided thanks only to "good visibility and the alertness of the passenger plane pilots," according to the ELN report, aptly entitled Dangerous Brinksmanship.
Making the near-disastrous encounter with the Russian spy plane even more frightening, the reconnaissance aircraft had its transponder turned off, making its presence effectively invisible to civilian air traffic controllers and other aircraft in the area. Luckily, the SAS pilots saw the Russian plane and maneuvered out of its way.
The report follows an incident in which another Russian spy plane last week actually entered NATO air space over Latvia, only to be intercepted and run off by Canadian fighter planes on a NATO patrol.
The potential collision, which would have caused a "major loss of life," the report said, came just three months before Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down, apparently by Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels, on June 17. The shootdown killed all 298 passengers and crew.
Among the other hair-raising encounters uncovered in the ELN report:
• An armed Russian fighter on April 23 "undertook very threatening maneuvers in the vicinity of an American reconnaissance aircraft in the Sea of Okhotsk," the report said, adding that, "such behavior is far removed from what would be expected in a relatively routine encounter."
• Russian fighter jets on July 19 chased an American spy plane into Swedish air space -- a move that the American plane was forced to undertake without asking permission from the Swedish authorities, another situation that could have resulted in a tragic disaster.
• On September 17, two Russian bombers "deliberately" violated Swedish air space, "possibly to test the capabilities of the air defense system strengthened after previous incidents," the report said. The unauthorized Russian flyover was the "most serious aerial incursion" in many years, according to the Swedish government.
While many of the other incidents between Russian planes and NATO are described as "near routine" in the report, the authors at the London think-tank warn that the Russian spy plane incidents and fighter jet showdowns prove that Russia is deliberately taking a "much more aggressive" stance toward NATO and other Western allies that, even if the Russians do not intend to start a war, could easily lead to quick escalation into military action.