FighterSweep Fans, the NATO-Russia council met this past week and high on the list of topics to be discussed is the recent antics by Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) fighter pilots as they’ve paid close, arguably-dangerous visits to U.S. aircraft and naval vessels in recent weeks. According to one former Soviet-era fighter pilot, the Russian pilots of today are more aggressive than those of yesteryear.
The ambassadorial level meeting set for [this past] Wednesday at alliance headquarters in Brussels was to be the first time the format, which comprises NATO and Russian officials, has been convened since June 2014.
Looming over the talks are provocative Russian warplane intercepts. These include a pair of Russian Su-24 fighter jets that buzzed within 30 feet of the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 11 and 12, and a Su-27 fighter jet that performed a barrel roll within 50 feet of a U.S. RC-135 spy plane April 14.
“These kinds of planned maneuvers are especially dangerous because they bring us very close to an unplanned accident,” a former Soviet fighter pilot told The Daily Signal.
The U.S. and NATO say Russia has demonstrated a pattern of military aggression and reckless brinksmanship across Eastern Europe that risks sparking a military conflict.
Russia says NATO’s military buildup on the alliance’s eastern frontier is a threat to Russian national security.
“It was definitely done on purpose, and with the NATO summit in mind,” Oleksiy Melnyk, a former Ukrainian air force lieutenant colonel who served as a fighter pilot in the Soviet air force, said of the aerial antics by the Russian jets in an interview with The Daily Signal.
“Having the same background, I’m sure the pilots were not too young and too stupid to realize that these kinds of maneuvers would create an international scandal,” said Melnyk, now co-director of foreign relations and international security programs at the Razumkov Centre, a Ukrainian think tank.
Beginning in 1986, Melnyk flew Mig-21s for the USSR. He said the intent of the recent Russian intercepts was likely twofold: To send a diplomatic message to NATO that the Baltics are Russian turf and to test NATO’s military responses.
Russia’s current pattern of intercepting NATO ships and aircraft is “more aggressive and more frequent” than what the Soviet Union authorized pilots to perform during the Cold War, Melnyk said.