Eurofighter Typhoons of the Royal Air Force (RAF) have intercepted two Russian bombers heading for UK airspace, a 12-mile extension from the British coastline that the Russians have threatened to violate six times in the past year.
The incident, and others like it, have been interpreted as a sign of Russia ‘flexing its muscles’ and ‘using these tactics to poke us in the chest’, rather than anything more provocative. However, such incursions have become increasingly common across Europe and further afield in recent months as President Putin’s minions seek to send a strong message that Russia will not be cowed by the supposed international coalition taking umbrage at its assertive foreign policy.
The shooting down of a Russian military jet that violated Turkish air space in November last year has created a seemingly unsolvable diplomatic spat between the two states, both of which will play a crucial role in any resolution of the Syrian crisis.
Indeed, the adventurousness – some would say rashness – of Russia’s recent aerial incursions are more reminiscent of Cold War-era posturing than many analysts would like to admit. This is particularly so given that Russia acts with fury any time another state is deemed as having undermined its own sovereignty.
Such needless risk-taking and antagonistic attitudes amongst the Kremlin hierarchy opens up the potential for accidents. Nobody will forget the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014 which, whilst highly unlikely to have been sanctioned by Moscow, was a direct consequence of Russia’s support for pro-separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
Likewise, nobody has forgotten the day that a Russian missile took out Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in September 1983, after the pilot had accidentally entered Russian air space.
The Russians have a history of paranoia and belligerency, a toxic mix in any global situation. They do not tolerate breaches of their territorial integrity, so why should they expect other states to be more tolerant when it comes to their own violations?
The incident with Turkey will be repeated and the worry is that it may involve more than a two-seat fighter jet. Reports of near-misses between Russian and American planes in Syria abound and the increasing anxiety amongst some of NATO’s eastern states – particularly those in the Baltic region – regarding Russian aggression could lead to a fatal miscalculation.
Scaremongering is, of course, to be avoided at all costs because this will only increase anxiety and mistrust between states over Russia’s potential future actions. However, analysts must accept that we are moving into an era with more in common with the Cold War than they may like to admit; crises of sovereignty, proxy wars, diplomatic breakdown and foolhardy rhetoric. This has come to define today.
Global leaders need to take Russian threats seriously, however seemingly innocuous. Otherwise the next international disaster will be just around the corner and what it may spark…God only knows.