Russian bombers probing American defenses near the countries’ shared maritime boundary in the north have become more common recently, but this week saw a potentially disturbing new twist.
On Wednesday, Russian Su-35 “Flanker” fighter jets were along as escorts for two nuclear-capable Russian “Bear” bombers that penetrated Alaska’s Air Defense Zone, spurring the Pentagon into sending a pair of F-22 stealth fighter jets to intercept them, Fox News reported.
U.S. forces have intercepted Russian aircraft off the Alaska coast at least 60 times since 2007, but Wednesday’s confrontation marked the first time in three years that bombers had been escorted by Russian fighter jets, according to Lori O’Donley, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
“The last time we saw fighters with bombers together was 2014,” she wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner.
Three of the most recent incidents from last month reportedly involved just long-range Russian bombers. That the Vladimir Putin regime has apparently upgraded its flight plan by adding fighter escorts was concerning.
But it also seemed odd, given that only days before, President Donald Trump had spoken over the phone with Putin in what appeared to be a cordial phone call — one in which the two agreed to begin pursuing a ceasefire in Syria.
“In their first telephone conversation since the United States launched a cruise missile strike on Syria’s Moscow-backed military to retaliate for a chemical weapons attack on civilians, Mr. Trump agreed to send a representative to Russian-brokered cease-fire talks that start on Wednesday in Astana, Kazakhstan,” The New York Times reported Tuesday. “He and Mr. Putin also discussed meeting each other in Germany in July.”
Why follow up such a phone call with provocation?
Regardless, officials saw two possible explanations for why these patrols have been occurring in the first place.
As noted by CBS News, the first was that the patrols were a continued response to Trump’s missile strike against Syria last month.
The other explanation centered on the fact that the Russian TU-95 “Bear” bombers had been out of service for two years due to maintenance issues and have recently returned to action. The Alaska flights, then, would simply be necessary crew training.
Neither explanation explains the fighter escort, though. And that’s disturbing.
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