The news was revealed by the Ministry of Defense just a few hours after the story broke that Russian warships from Moscow’s Northern Fleet had entered the English Channel, on their way to carry out anti-aircraft and anti-submarine drills, according to Sky News. The Interfax news agency reported that the Russian ships were on their way to undertake drills in the north Atlantic, but the British navy sent HMS Argyll to monitor their progress through the Channel.
British Typhoon fighters tail Russian bombers
The Typhoon warplanes were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, and the Ministry of Defense later said that: “RAF Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighter aircraft were launched today after Russian aircraft were identified flying close to UK airspace. The Russian planes are being escorted by the RAF in the UK area of interest.”
It is thought that the intercepted planes were Russian Bear H bombers. Following the deployment of the Typhoons, Voyager refueling craft were sent from RAF Brize Norton to provide air-to-air refueling support, and the team at the National Air Defense Operations Center provided communications and radar assistance.
The appearance of the Bear bombers was the second time that Moscow had flaunted its military power close to Britain over the course of a few hours. The bombers stopped short of entering UK sovereign airspace.
Military exercises increase tensions
Russia’s actions in Ukraine have led to increased tensions between Moscow and the West. NATO military exercises and increased deployment in Eastern Europe have served to exacerbate the tensions, and relations continue to deteriorate as a dangerous game of military brinkmanship develops.
Although James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, stated that the Channel is a “legitimate shipping lane,” he added that Russian movements are part of a plan to ensure that the West recognizes its military power. “Equally, these things aren’t done by accident. Russia is trying to show it has got full spectrum capability warfare,” he said.
He later moved to assuage fears that World War Three is imminent, claiming that: “It is not a prelude to war but it is a reminder that Russia likes to remind us of – that it is a power to be reckoned with, not a fading power, which might be closer to the reality. It can tell us that with a degree of braggadocio.”
Russian movements near NATO territory increasing
Last November a group of Russian warships were monitored by the Royal Navy as they passed through the Strait of Dover after taking part in exercises in the North Sea. Three months later, another Russian warship passed through the English Channel under close surveillance from Navy ships.
The movement of Russian forces near to NATO allies territory has become increasingly common. So far there have been no incidents, but there are fears that with increased military activity comes an increased risk of all-out conflict.
Last November, NATO released figures which detailed all of the occasions that the alliance had scrambled fighter jets from member nations in response to Russian military flights near member territory. Up to that point, NATO jets had been scrambled over 400 times during 2014, a 50% increase on the year before.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said what many were thinking when he claimed that the increase is reminiscent of the dark days of the Cold War. Stoltenberg was speaking during a NATO member visit to Estonia on November 20. The UK intercepted over 100 Russian aircraft last year, according to the Ministry of Defense.
A worrying time for international relations
The geopolitical situation appears to be worsening and it may be argued that the most dangerous of those flashpoints is Russia. President Vladimir Putin is an unpredictable statesman, and it appears that he is more than ready to engage in a tit-for-tat game of saber-rattling with the U.S. and its NATO allies.
Not only is Putin flexing his military muscles by carrying out military exercises close to other countries, he appears to be using Russia’s economic influence to cause mischief. Closer ties have been forged with North Korea, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently visited Moscow to discuss a series of possible economic project between Russia and Greece.
Commentators worry that Putin may be attempting to tear the European Union apart from the inside out, bringing Greece into Russia’s sphere of influence as Western creditors continue to play hardball with the newly-elected Socialist Prime Minister Tsipras. There appears to be no shortage of trouble that Moscow is willing to cause as Putin refuses to be cowed by economic sanctions due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.