Admiral William Gortney, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia poses a threat to America’s safety.
In his written testimony submitted to the committee, NORAD commander said Russia’s heavy bomber aircraft flew more patrols outside the Russian airspace “than in any year since the Cold War.”
One biggest challenge for the US is to figure out whether the missiles on Russian bombers, submarines, and warships, are conventional bombs or nuclear tipped bombs. The range of these Russian missiles also vary widely. When these missiles are carried on submarines, it is practically impossible for the US to know whether or not they are nuclear.
“Russia is progressing toward its goal of deploying long-range, conventionally-armed cruise missiles with ever increasing stand-off launch distances on its heavy bombers, submarines and surface combatants, augmenting the Kremlin’s toolkit of flexible deterrent options short of the nuclear threshold,” Gortney said. “Should these trends continue, over time NORAD will face increased risk in our ability to defend North America against Russian air, maritime, and cruise missile threats.”
He said Russian aircraft patrols have also been increased across the coastlines of Europe. However, the Russian aircrafts have not been brazen enough to extend its flying operations into the United States or Canada sovereign airspace. Under NORAD operations, The US and Canada routinely send fighter jets to monitor any Russian military aircraft approaching the US coastline.
“We have also witnessed improved interoperability between Russian long-range aviation and other elements of the Russian military, including air and maritime intelligence collection platforms positioned to monitor NORAD responses,” he added.
Gortney also said the Russian aircraft patrols are designed to “communicate its displeasure with Western policies, particularly with regard to Ukraine.”
Almost all of the interceptions took place near Russian borders over the Baltic states. By November, NATO intercepted the Russian military over 100 times, which is three times more than in 2013.
In October, a foreign submarine believed to be Russian was spotted off the coast of Sweden, stirring up a major naval operation to try to locate it. The submarine was not located, but after that event, Estonian authorities decided to pay more attention to the area near Saaremaa and Hiiumaa and to look out for possible threats. NATO states have also strengthened the monitoring of the airspace over Scandinavia and the Baltic countries.
Then on November 6, 2014 Portugal, a founding member of NATO, chased a Russian ship out of its waters. Russia tried to explain itself by saying that the ship conducted “marine research,” but Portugal intervened when the ship floated almost fourteen miles from the coast.
In January, two United Kingdom Royal Air Force jets intercepted two Russian bombers over the English Channel. The bombers were capable of carrying nuclear weapons. In February, the warships returned to the Channel.
“It’s the first aggression of the kind since Saddam Hussein”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is looking to further test Kyiv’s capabilities.
“This is the great threat to international security today – because it is the first aggression of its kind since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait 25 years ago … it is a very dangerous precedent for Russia,” Dr. Stephen Blank, a senior fellow for Russia at the American Foreign Policy Council, told FoxNews.com.
The comments come as one of the Russian Foreign Ministry officials stated Wednesday that his country has the right to deploy nuclear arms in the disputed Crimea territory, yet adding he knew of no plans of that.
“It’s really indicative of a lot of loose talk on both sides … from the Russian side you see some really offhanded ways talking about nuclear capabilities that are very different than anything we saw during the Cold War. I think that is precisely that drifting into a strategic confrontation … makes it a truly dangerous situation,” said Henning, a fellow with the national security think-tank Truman National Security Project.
Both Dr. Stephen Blank and Job Henning are discussing whether Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hasn’t made a public appearance since March 5, is acting haphazardly for a reason.
“There is certainly a tactical element to his actions … at a fundamental level, Russia has not yet decided if it can live as modern nation-state within its boundaries and … it’s important not to underestimate how well Putin understands these things and it’s important not to underestimate his strategic ambitions,” said Henning.
“We are going to see constant probes by Russia unless we thwart them in Ukraine,” added Blank.
“US is really not good at arming its allies”
Both Dr. Stephen Blank and Job Henning believe the US should have a cautious approach with the potential unraveling situation, including providing Ukraine with lethal military assistance.
“Just giving weapons to Ukraine without giving them enough training to use them or strengthening the Ukrainian state will not be productive,” said Blank.
Henning points out “that we are really not good at arming our allies – we weren’t good at it in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq … we need to be realistic about our ability to build the capacity for the Ukrainian government to receive and responsibly use those military capabilities and we have to be realistic about Russian reactions.”
On March 8 the United States delivered over 120 heavy military equipment to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in order to prevent Russian aggression and not let Mr. Putin advance further into Europe.
The heavy military equipment transfer comes amid tensions between Washington and Moscow over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year. While Western powers accuse Moscow in the presence of its troops in the eastern Ukraine, and while the Kremlin denies such allegations, NATO plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe and help its vulnerable states against Russian aggression.
But what about sending military arms to Ukraine? I mean, strengthening the Baltics to prevent the Russian President from further advance into Europe is a good thing, but wouldn’t it be smarter to nip Putin’s plans in the bud by providing Ukraine with lethal military aid?