Breaking News -- Russia
|NATO to send 4,000 troops to border with Russia
NATO is deploying an additional four battalions of 4,000 troops in Poland and the three Baltic States, according to a report citing US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.
Work confirmed the number of troops to be sent to the border with Russia, The Wall Street Journal reports. He said the reason for the deployment is Russia’s multiple snap military exercises near the Baltics States.
“The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops,” Work said as cited by the Wall Street Journal. “From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behavior.”
Although there have already been talks about German troops to be deployed to Lithuania, Berlin is still mulling its participation.
“We are currently reviewing how we can continue or strengthen our engagement on the alliance’s eastern periphery,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in light of a recent poll from the Bertelsmann Foundation that found only 31 percent of Germans would welcome the idea of German troops defending Poland and the Baltic States.
London has not made its mind either, yet is expected to do so before the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw in July.
Ahead of the deployment, NATO officials are also discussing the possibility of making the battalions multinational, combining troops from different countries under the joint NATO command and control system.
Moscow has been unhappy with the NATO military buildup at Russia’s borders for some time now.
“NATO military infrastructure is inching closer and closer to Russia’s borders. But when Russia takes action to ensure its security, we are told that Russia is engaging in dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders. In fact, NATO borders are getting closer to Russia, not the opposite,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter daily.
Poland and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have regularly pressed NATO headquarters to beef up the alliance’s presence on their territory.
According to the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the permanent presence of large NATO formations at the Russian border is prohibited. Yet some voices in Brussels are saying that since the NATO troops stationed next to Russia are going to rotate, this kind of military buildup cannot be regarded as a permanent presence.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it’s ready for a tit-for-tat response to any NATO military activity near Russia’s borders. As Russia’s envoy to NATO Aleksandr Grushko put it, there are no “passive observes” in the Russian armed forces and Moscow would definitely compensate militarily for an “absolutely unjustified military presence.”
Russia challenges US after Baltic jet face-off
Russia says it was right to confront a US Air Force reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea on Friday.
The Pentagon said a Russian jet fighter acted in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner", and performed a barrel roll over its plane.
Russia said that the American jet had turned off its transponder signal, which helps others identify it.
It is the second incident in the Baltic this month in which the US has accused Russian planes of flying aggressively.
"All flights of Russian planes are conducted in accordance with international regulations on the use of airspace," a statement by the Russian defence ministry said. "The US Air Force has two solutions: either not to fly near our borders or to turn the transponder on for identification."
US jets "regularly" try to approach Russia's borders with transponders switched off, the statement said. Over the past 18 months, Russia has been repeatedly accused of the same practice over the Baltic and near UK waters.
It is not clear how close to Russia's waters Friday's incident occurred.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Daniel Hernandez said there had been "repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns".
"The US aircraft was operating in international airspace and at no time crossed into Russian territory," he said.
"This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all air crews involved."
Such actions could "unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries," he said.
Mr Hernandez said the Su-27's "erratic and aggressive manoeuvres" also threatened the safety of the US aircrew, coming within 7.6m (25ft) of the fuselage of the American plane before conducting its barrel roll.
Military encounters between Russia and the US and its allies have escalated significantly over the past two years, ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the breakdown of relations between East and West.
Two Russian planes flew close to a US guided missile destroyer almost a dozen times in the Baltic on 13 April.
The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue in Washington reported after the destroyer incident that Russia's actions were regarded by defence analysts as a flexing of muscle, a reminder that Russia has military might and cannot be pushed around.
Russia denies breaking rules over low pass of US destroyer
Russia says it observed all required safety measures when its aircraft flew close to a US warship in international waters of the Baltic Sea on Monday.
According to Russia's defence ministry, the Su-24 fighter jets "turned away in observance of all safety measures" after observing the USS Donald Cook.
The ship was sailing close to a Russian navy base, the ministry said.
Russia was criticised over the flybys, which a US official called "one of the most aggressive acts in recent memory".
The two Russian jets flew over the US destroyer almost a dozen times, American officials said.
At one point the jets were so close - about 9m (30ft) - that they created wakes in the water around the ship.
The jets had no visible weaponry and the ship took no action.
The Russian defence ministry said: "After spotting the ship, Russian pilots turned away from it in full compliance with safety measures.
"All flights of the Russian aircraft are in strict compliance with international rules of the use of air space above neutral waters."
The commander of the Donald Cook described the flights as a "simulated attack".
The passes were "unsafe, potentially provocative" and "could have caused an accident," officials said in a release.
The actions of the Russian jets may have violated a 1970s agreement meant to prevent dangerous incidents at sea, but it is not clear whether the US is going to protest.
A Russian helicopter taking pictures also passed by the ship seven times.
These close encounters of a military kind between the US and its allies and Russia have escalated significantly over the past two years, ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea and the substantial break down of relations between East and West.
They take various forms. They can be violations of national airspace; narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea and simulated attack runs.
The incidents have taken place over a wide area - in and around the Baltic states; in the Baltic sea; the Black Sea and even close to Stockholm, when the Swedish authorities believed a Russian submarine had violated its territorial waters in 2014.
They are regarded by defence analysts as a flexing of muscle - a reminder that Russia has military might and cannot be pushed around.
But the frequency of such situations means many fear that a full on confrontation - be-it deliberate or accidental - is just a matter of time between the world's two great military powers.
The Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when the jets made their passes, according to a statement from the United States European Command.
The US suspended flight operations from the ship until the Russian jets left the area.
The next day, a Russian KA-27 helicopter flew circles at low altitude around the ship, followed by more jet passes.
The aircraft did not respond to safety warnings in English or Russian.
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