Russian Strategic Bombers Conduct More European Flights

Bill Gertz,  The Washington Free Beacon

Russian nuclear-capable bombers conducted a third day of military runs along Europe’s coasts on Friday as part of heightened strategic activities by Moscow, the NATO alliance said.

“On Friday, Russian planes carried out more flights over Europe,” said NATO spokesman Maj. Rob Phillips. “NATO tracked these flights over the Baltics, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.”

Defense officials, meanwhile, said several Russian Il-76 refueling tankers were seen at Cairo International Airport this week, fueling concerns that the large-scale bomber and fighter operations by the Russians will be extended to the Mediterranean and Egypt.

Egypt, a close U.S. ally in the Middle East, in recent months has shifted toward Moscow in the face of opposition from the Obama administration to continued cooperation with the new military-oriented government in Cairo.

The Russian aircraft that conducted Friday’s sorties included Tu-95 Bear bombers, Il-78 aerial refueling tankers and several types of fighter jets, Phillips said in a statement, adding that similar flights took place Thursday and Wednesday.

The multiple sets of aircraft were picked up by NATO air defense radar in areas close to NATO airspace but did not violate territorial airspace of the countries bordering the seas.

“In response, NATO jets from the Baltic Air policing mission, as well as aircraft from Allied nations were scrambled to intercept them,” Phillips said, without providing specifics on the type of aircraft.

The interceptors included Norwegian F-16s, British Typhoons and Portuguese F-16s.

Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby said the intense Russian aircraft activity is a concern.
“We certainly don’t see these increased flights and activity as helpful to the security situation in Europe,” Kirby told reporters. “Clearly they pose a potential risk of escalation.”

The flights also could pose a risk to civil aviation “based on the sheer number of and size of and scope of these flights,” he said.

Kirby also criticized Russia’s continued interference in Ukraine and said “we’re watching these flights very, very closely… and again, what we’d ask authorities in Russia to do is to take steps – concrete, tangible steps to reduce tension, not increase it.”

The latest Russian warplanes flights prompted a senior defense official to described Moscow’s military activities as “relentless.”

The centerpiece of the Russian aerial maneuvers involved two Bear bombers that flew around the west coast of Britain as far south as Portugal before turning back and flying to a Russian air base.

Phillips said the aircraft did not file flight plans or engage in radio or other contact with civilian air controls and turned off on-board transponders, a measure he said “poses a danger to civilian air traffic.”

The Friday flights follow similar flights by 19 Russian aircraft Wednesday and Thursday near Europe that included Tu-95s along with flights of Su-35 fighter bombers.

Further east, four Russian aircraft, including two Bears and two Su-27s were intercepted over the Black Sea on Wednesday by Turkish fighters.

The latest Russian flights followed numerous strategic bomber incursions in recent months of air defense zones near Alaska and California, as well as along Canada’s eastern coast.

Phillips said NATO has conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year, about three times the number of intercepts carried out last year.

Defense analysts say the bomber flights are part of a pattern of increased Russian nuclear saber-rattling against the United States and NATO adopted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy of seeking Moscow’s return to Soviet-era power and status.

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