The war of words between the Western military alliance and Moscow heated up ahead of a NATO gathering in Brussels on Tuesday
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute accused the Russian military on Monday of engaging in irresponsible aerial maneuvers that put civilian aircraft in unnecessary danger.
The envoy’s remarks follow the alliance’s public announcement in late October that accused the Russian military of conducting an unprecedented number of unannounced aerial forays into Europe’s skies. NATO says it has scrambled its own aircraft over 400 times in response to Russian incursions this year — a more than 50% increase than the total number during 2013.
“These Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms,” said Lute during a press conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
NATO says Russian forces have repeatedly refused to submit flight plans to civilian air traffic control stations when flying exercises and, in multiple instances, have flown with their transponders turned off.
The Kremlin’s alleged indifference toward civilian aviation procedures is seen as particularly concerning to NATO members following Washington’s insistence that a Russian-supplied weapons system was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in southeastern Ukraine this summer. Russia vehemently denies responsibility.
As relations between Moscow and the alliance continue to sour, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg boasted on Monday of the organization’s increased presence in Eastern Europe.
This year has been one of “aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong,” said Stoltenberg during a press conference. “Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin unleashed its own criticisms of NATO and panned the alliance for destabilizing northern Europe and the Baltics.
“They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, which is Europe’s north,” Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told his nation’s Interfax news agency. “Those endless military exercises, rebasing of aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the Baltic nations. This is the reality, a very negative one.”
NATO has been steadily increasing its defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe following Russia’s forceful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In September, the alliance unveiled plans to build a new expeditionary outfit that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed.” On Monday, NATO’s secretary general said he expected the “spearhead force” to be ready by 2016.