The United States Air Force is advising its pilots to be “as predictable” as possible when confronting increasingly aggressive Russian pilots in international airspace.
Russian pilots have routinely conducted unsafe intercepts of U.S. aircraft in international airspace, drastically increasing the likelihood of a collision. U.S. General Frank Gorenc told the Air Force Times, “every once in a while, there is a discussion in respect to the professionalism of a particular crew … that causes us to look at it and say, ‘What are they doing?”
“Moscow’s provocative actions now endanger U.S. and allied service members, and this is unacceptable,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement. She continued, “We strongly condemn Russia’s reckless actions, and we must not tolerate interference with the right of the United States and our allies to operate freely in international airspace and waters.”
Unsafe intercepts can cause significant damage and spark international incidents. In 2001, a Chinese pilot employed harassment tactics similar to today’s Russian pilots, and collided with an American surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot was killed, and the American crew was held for 10 days while China demanded an apology. The collision sparked an international incident and significantly raised already simmering tensions between the U.S. and China.
The unsafe intercepts are likely to continue as NATO expands its eastern flank in response to Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine. NATO is deploying four battalions to the Baltic states. The NATO deployment is meant to be more than a symbolic gesture in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia. NATO Secretary General Jan Stoltenberg called the decision “the biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”
Russian aggression is not limited to the air, in late June, Russian Frigate Yaroslav Mudry repeatedly passed within unsafe distances June 17 of USS Gravely in the Eastern Mediterranean, at one point risking a collision. Russian harassment even extends to U.S. diplomats. In one incident a Russian spy killed an American diplomat’s dog, in another a spy defecated on a diplomat’s living room carpet.
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