At least 50 Russian jets, including many of Russia’s advanced Su-34 “Fullback” fighter jets, began aerial combat exercises just miles from Russia’s western borders with NATO nations Estonia, Latvia, and Finland — military drills that see the deadly jets firing live ammunition and guided missiles.
The exercises taking place in the skies over Russia’s Western Military District appear designed to show the West that even as the conflict in Ukraine rages on — despite this week’s new ceasefire agreement — the United States and European sanctions have not diminished Russia’s military might.
“We are not experiencing any deficit in supplies which is why we are able to conduct snap drills to test our battle readiness,” said Deputy Russia Defense Minister Arkady Bakhin, who himself is the target of sanctions that include bans on his personal travel to the West, and freezing of his financial assets.
“Believe me, these sanctions mean nothing to me. It will get worse for them and they will come running back to us.”
Since the crisis in Ukraine began last April, Russian jets have stepped up their confrontations with NATO forces, particularly over the Baltic Sea, which lies off of the northwestern Russian border, the same region where the current aerial combat drills started on Tuesday.
In addition to the Su-34 fighter jets, other Russian jets involved in the live-fire exercises include at least two models of the famous, Soviet era MiG jet, as well as the Su-27 “Flanker,” the direct predecessor to the Su-34.
As Russia increased its harassment of NATO jets and Western countries in the skies, several videos have emerged showing the awe-inspiring aircraft in action. A pair of Su-34 jets can be seen confronting NATO F-16 fighters in a video at this link.
Military experts in the West say that the Russian military exercises, as well as the continued near-incursions into NATO territory by Russian jets, risk setting off a violent confrontation with NATO forces that could quickly escalate into a far more dangerous situation.
“I am concerned that the possibility of an accidental clash of forces along Russia’s western border is increasing, and the two sides do not have in place the mechanisms to avoid dangerous escalation,” said United States Brigadier General Kevin Ryan.
The live fire drills by the Russian jets come just a day after the Russian Navy conducted its own live fire exercises in the eastern area of the Mediterranean Sea.
[Image: Vitali V. Kuzmin/Wikimedia Commons]