NATO fighters were scrambled for the second consecutive day on Thursday to escort Russian aircraft in the Northeast Atlantic. The situation unfolded amid simmering military tensions between Moscow and Western governments.
Russia’s Defense Ministry told reporters on Wednesday that Norwegian F-35 Lightning II and British Eurofighter Typhoon fighters shadowed two Russian Tupolev Tu-142 naval aviation aircraft over the Barents and Norwegian Seas.
"In accordance with the combat training plan, two Tu-142 anti-submarine aircraft of the Northern Fleet’s naval aviation performed a successful flight to a designated area in the Northeast Atlantic to take part in the exercise aimed at searching for submarines and tracking them," the Russian Defense Ministry said, as reported by state news outlet TASS. "During the flight, the Tu-142 aircraft was escorted by fighter jets belonging to the Norwegian Air Force and the British Air Force.”
Norwegian F-35 and British Typhoon fighters were again deployed on Thursday to escort Tu-95 strategic heavy bombers over the Atlantic Ocean.
"Two long-range aviation Tu-95 strategic missile carriers carried out a planned sortie over neutral waters of the Barents and Norwegian Sea, as well as northeast part of the Atlantic Ocean," the Russian Defense Ministry said, according to TASS. "At certain swath of the flight route, the Russian strategic missile carriers were escorted by UK Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters.”
The Russian sortie, which lasted fifteen hours, reportedly involved refueling operations. The Defense Ministry said that Russia’s long-range aviation drills over “neutral waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, Black and Baltic seas” are routine and “take place in strict compliance with the international aviation law.”
A Royal Air Force spokesperson confirmed that the Typhoon fighters on quick reaction alert were deployed from Lossiemouth air base, located in the Northern United Kingdom.
The escorts come amid rising military tensions between Russia and NATO, with western officials warning that the Russian forces arrayed on Ukraine’s eastern border are poised to strike at any moment. Alexander Volfovich, secretary of the Belarusian State Security Council, said last week that NATO forces have stepped up the frequency of bomber sorties near Russian and Belarusian borders.
"In our assessments, this means that the NATO air force is practicing employing cruise missiles, including those with nuclear warheads," Volfovich said, describing the alleged sorties as a “breach of international norms and elementary rules of good neighborly relations by neighboring countries.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Thursday that Russia sent as many as 30,000 troops to Belarus in anticipation of the joint Union Resolve 2022 drills, marking Moscow’s largest deployment there since the Cold War.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.