Accusations fly around Russia’s Baltic deployments as tensions escalate

Reports of increased military activity raises alarm for border states as diplomatic relations between Russia and Nato worsen

The Polish defence minister has called Russia’s naval and air force activity around the Baltic Sea this week unprecedented, marking a further escalation of tensions in the region.

Tomasz Siemoniak said that although most of the Russian military actions took place in international waters and airspace and did not “look like preparations for an attack”, such testing of boundaries did not help to build good relations and trust.

“We know that the Russians say that their activity is a reaction to Nato actions,” Siemoniak said on Polish television. “For us, this raises an alarm.”

The defence ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were meeting on Thursday and the situation in the Baltic sea would be the “number one topic of the meeting”, Siemoniak said. The three coastal countries, which also share land borders with Russia, joined Nato in 2004.

Nato has released a video it said showed Nato jets intercepting what appeared to be two Russian Su-27 on Monday. The film was shot by Dutch F-16s temporarily stationed at Poland’s Malbork base for Nato’s Baltic air policing mission.

On Tuesday Norway said one of its warplanes had a “near miss” to the north of the country with a Russian fighter, which had come too close, and the Finnish air force has reported “unusually intense” activity over the Gulf of Finland as Russian bombers, fighters and transport planes moved between the Russian mainland and its exclave of Kaliningrad, which is located between Poland and Lithuania.

Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russia’s general staff, accused Nato on Wednesday of using the situation in Ukraine to expand further toward Russia’s borders, noting a buildup of Nato troops, ships and aircraft in Poland and near the Baltic and Black seas.

A November report by a British thinktank noted a rise in close military encounters between Russia and the west this year, including “violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.” Nato states had scrambled fighter jets to intercept Russian aircraft more than 100 times this year as of late October, more than three times more than in 2013, it said.

Among 40 incidents listed, three had posed a high risk of causing casualties or direct military confrontations, it added.

The Swedish navy engaged in a massive hunt for a Russian submarine reported in the Stockholm in archipelago in October, and a SAS plane with 132 passengers taking off from Copenhagen in March nearly collided with a Russian reconnaissance aircraft that hadn’t transmitted its position.

In September, Russian operatives reportedly jammed communications and threw smoke grenades in order to abduct an Estonian special services agent from a border post that Estonia said was located in its territory.


Alec Luhn in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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