Russia and NATO aerial interaction

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

While Russia has recently gathered a global audience by deploying troops to Ukraine’s border, they have also gathered the attention of the United Kingdom while attempting to fly near U.K.  airspace unannounced. 

            On Feb. 2, 2022, Russia attempted to fly four military-strategic bomber aircraft near U.K. airspace. When the British Royal Air Force determined the Russian planes had a projected course of flying over U.K. airspace, the air force quickly had jets take off from the nearest military base in Lossiemouth located in northeast Scotland. Because they were unsure if this situation would be hostile, the jets launched were Typhoon jets. A Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 is a combat jet that is agile and can do a wide range of air operations including high-intensity conflict. At the same time, Oxfordshire, England launched a Voyager air-to-refueling tanker which can use pods located under the wings to quickly refuel jets. The report from the U.K. states that the bombers were “intercepted and escorted [out of the airway].” 

            This group has been called to intercept other aircraft that approach the U.K.’s controlled airspace. It is called the “U.K. area of interest” and is international airspace policed by the U.K. This time and during a similar Russian near incursion in November 2021, the Russian bombers did not enter U.K. airspace. The U.K. believes that when the “U. K. area of interest” airspace is entered without an invitation there are two potential issues. First, the Russian jets navigate without communication with the U.K.’s air traffic control system, thus endangering civilian aircraft in the area. Secondly, entering these airspaces unannounced could be a national security threat to the U.K. and its citizens. 

            Russia’s actions of unpredictable and potentially provocative air routes could provoke the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to take action. A report produced by NATO in December of 2021 states that 290 NATO missions were flown in 2021 due to Russian aircraft posing potential threats. A school of thought is emerging globally that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, may be using provocative military aircraft flights to gauge NATO responsiveness to potential military threats. Putin, according to some observers, also highlights to his domestic audience that NATO’s responses to the Russian flights are an indication that NATO does not respect Russia’s right to free access to the international airspace. After all, an interception by NATO aircraft has often taken place over international waters. As the situation on the Ukrainian border continues to stress the international community concerned with a potential Russian attack into Ukraine, aerial interactions elsewhere in Europe highlight the contentious relationship between Russia and NATO and the potential for miscalculation in an atmosphere of increasing distrust.

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