US and NATO scrambling jets almost daily to meet Russian incursions

Trying to read the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin is an iffy proposition. So it becomes very difficult to decipher what message Putin is sending by constantly testing US and our ally's response to nearly daily incursions by Russian warplanes.

Surely, there is a military aspect to the provocations. But a gigantic game of chess is being played out on 3 continents, and so far, it looks like Putin is 3 moves ahead.

Washington Times:

“What’s going on is a radical escalation of aggressive Russian muscle flexing and posturing designed to demonstrate that Russia is no longer a defeated power of the Cold War era,” says Ariel Cohen, who heads the Center for Energy, National Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.

“The more we retreat, the more we are encouraging Russia to behave in a more aggressive way,” Mr. Cohen said. “We need to be engaging more deeply with our Central Asian allies, but instead we are in the process of abandoning turf to Russia, and it’s wrong — it’s against our interests geopolitically to let Russia feel that they all of a sudden have won all the turf without firing a shot.”

The Obama administration resists such characterizations, asserting that the White House is doing anything but “retreating.”

To the contrary, administration officials say they’re bolstering U.S. support to NATO and several non-NATO Baltic states specifically to confront Mr. Putin. They also assert that the current economic downturn inside Russia — where inflation is reported to have crested to 8 percent in recent weeks — is driven as much by a dip in global oil prices as by the slate of sanctions leveled by the White House in response to Russian meddling in Ukraine.

For his own part, Mr. Obama stopped short of directly addressing the uptick in Russian military maneuvering during a major U.N. speech last month. The president did, however, assert that “Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones.”

He also threatened to “impose a cost on Russia for aggression.”

Mr. Obama’s comments were followed this month by the deployment of some 20 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks and roughly 700 U.S. troops across Poland and three Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — a move military officials said was designed to send a message that serious Russian aggression in the area could mean war with NATO.

But Mr. Putin has appeared undeterred. NATO officials confirmed this week that the Russian air force flew an Ilyushin-20 spy plane into Estonian airspace Tuesday, triggering a swift reaction from NATO fighter jets patrolling the area.

The incursion came just days after Sweden made international headlines by scrambling a fleet of naval vessels to search for a suspected submarine sighted about 30 miles off the coast of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea.

The Russians have also tested US and Canadian responses by skirting the Alaskan and Canadian coasts:

Two U.S. F-22 fighter jets intercepted six Russian military airplanes that were flying near Alaska, military officials said Friday.

Lt. Col. Michael Jazdyk, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said the jets intercepted the planes about 55 nautical miles from the Alaskan coast at about 7 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday.

Tensions are high between the United States and Russia as the two countries are increasingly at odds over Ukraine, where Russian-backed insurgents have been fighting for control of parts of the country.

The Russian planes were identified as two IL-78 refueling tankers, two Mig-31 fighter jets and two Bear long-range bombers. They looped south and returned to their base in Russia after the U.S. jets were scrambled.

At about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets intercepted two of the long-range Russian Bear bombers about 40 nautical miles off the Canadian coastline in the Beaufort Sea.

In a psychological game like this, the aggressor has the upper hand. And it doesn't help when America is led by people who continue to talk about Russian aggression being a "19th century" tactic and that Putin is on the "wrong side of history." That hardly matters in the cold calculus of power politics.

Putin probing our defenses may or may not have a larger military context, as in preparing for war. But keeping us guessing his next move is probably all Putin wants - at the moment.

 

Trying to read the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin is an iffy proposition. So it becomes very difficult to decipher what message Putin is sending by constantly testing US and our ally's response to nearly daily incursions by Russian warplanes.

Surely, there is a military aspect to the provocations. But a gigantic game of chess is being played out on 3 continents, and so far, it looks like Putin is 3 moves ahead.

Washington Times:

“What’s going on is a radical escalation of aggressive Russian muscle flexing and posturing designed to demonstrate that Russia is no longer a defeated power of the Cold War era,” says Ariel Cohen, who heads the Center for Energy, National Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.

“The more we retreat, the more we are encouraging Russia to behave in a more aggressive way,” Mr. Cohen said. “We need to be engaging more deeply with our Central Asian allies, but instead we are in the process of abandoning turf to Russia, and it’s wrong — it’s against our interests geopolitically to let Russia feel that they all of a sudden have won all the turf without firing a shot.”

The Obama administration resists such characterizations, asserting that the White House is doing anything but “retreating.”

To the contrary, administration officials say they’re bolstering U.S. support to NATO and several non-NATO Baltic states specifically to confront Mr. Putin. They also assert that the current economic downturn inside Russia — where inflation is reported to have crested to 8 percent in recent weeks — is driven as much by a dip in global oil prices as by the slate of sanctions leveled by the White House in response to Russian meddling in Ukraine.

For his own part, Mr. Obama stopped short of directly addressing the uptick in Russian military maneuvering during a major U.N. speech last month. The president did, however, assert that “Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones.”

He also threatened to “impose a cost on Russia for aggression.”

Mr. Obama’s comments were followed this month by the deployment of some 20 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks and roughly 700 U.S. troops across Poland and three Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — a move military officials said was designed to send a message that serious Russian aggression in the area could mean war with NATO.

But Mr. Putin has appeared undeterred. NATO officials confirmed this week that the Russian air force flew an Ilyushin-20 spy plane into Estonian airspace Tuesday, triggering a swift reaction from NATO fighter jets patrolling the area.

The incursion came just days after Sweden made international headlines by scrambling a fleet of naval vessels to search for a suspected submarine sighted about 30 miles off the coast of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea.

The Russians have also tested US and Canadian responses by skirting the Alaskan and Canadian coasts:

Two U.S. F-22 fighter jets intercepted six Russian military airplanes that were flying near Alaska, military officials said Friday.

Lt. Col. Michael Jazdyk, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said the jets intercepted the planes about 55 nautical miles from the Alaskan coast at about 7 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday.

Tensions are high between the United States and Russia as the two countries are increasingly at odds over Ukraine, where Russian-backed insurgents have been fighting for control of parts of the country.

The Russian planes were identified as two IL-78 refueling tankers, two Mig-31 fighter jets and two Bear long-range bombers. They looped south and returned to their base in Russia after the U.S. jets were scrambled.

At about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets intercepted two of the long-range Russian Bear bombers about 40 nautical miles off the Canadian coastline in the Beaufort Sea.

In a psychological game like this, the aggressor has the upper hand. And it doesn't help when America is led by people who continue to talk about Russian aggression being a "19th century" tactic and that Putin is on the "wrong side of history." That hardly matters in the cold calculus of power politics.

Putin probing our defenses may or may not have a larger military context, as in preparing for war. But keeping us guessing his next move is probably all Putin wants - at the moment.