US defense officials are calling recent sightings of Russian bombers off the Alaskan coast “nothing out of the ordinary” — itself an indication that both nations are toeing the line between routine military posturing and escalating provocation.
On Monday, US F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace 100 miles from Kodiak Island, Alaska. A US military official called the interaction “safe and professional.”
Less than 24 hours later, a US surveillance aircraft responded to two Russian bombers that were spotted in the same area, this time flying 41 miles off Alaska.
The Russian aircraft did not enter US airspace in either instance and US defense officials say there was nothing unusual or confrontational about the Russians’ conduct. The US itself has carried out similar flights along both the Chinese and Russian coasts.
Moscow, for its part, said it “regularly carries out patrol missions above the neutral waters of the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean.”
“All such missions are carried out in strict compliance with international regulations and with respect to national borders,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a written statement.
But this week’s encounter plays into a larger effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin “to prove Russia is back in the game,” according to Howard Stoffer, a former State Department staffer.
“This kind of cat-and-mouse stuff has been going on for a while now,” Stoffer told CNN, adding that Putin “is trying to put the US on notice that the Russians are everywhere and are back to expanding the limits of expanding their military power.”
“It is one thing when you fly to be noticed,” he said. “When the Russians buzz US ships, that is an unprofessional action because upsets the operation and is dangerous for all parties involved … that is where the line that is drawn.”
US officials have echoed Stoffer’s stance as recently as February, after the USS Porter had three encounters with Russian aircraft while sailing in the Black Sea.
Those encounters were deemed unsafe and unprofessional because of how close the Russian planes flew to the American destroyer, a senior defense official said at the time.
Moscow denied that its aircraft had made any unsafe moves.
SOURCE: Zachary Cohen