Mon, Nov 05, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Uninvited Russia turns up to NATO war games

AFP, ON BOARD USS MOUNT WHITNEY, Norway

NATO naval and marine officers gather for a group photograph on the USS Mount Whitney on Friday during the Trident Juncture NATO military exercise in the sea off Trondheim, Norway.

Photo: AFP

The whirring of a low-flying Soviet Union-era war plane signaled Russia’s uninvited arrival to NATO’s biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War.

US Marines on board USS Mount Whitney off the Norwegian coast had gathered for a group photograph on deck when the Tupolev TU-142 soared overhead.

“It’s a long-range maritime patrol reconnaissance plane,” one fascinated marine said after casting an expert eye on the visitor.

Although he had seen plenty of images of the aircraft, this was the first time he had seen it live, so to speak.

Russia has already made clear its displeasure at NATO’s Trident Juncture exercises, the largest by the alliance since the end of the Cold War. It warned that the two-week exercise, which it sees as an anti-Russian show of force, would not go unanswered.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said that two TU-142s carried out a “planned flight” of more than 12 hours.

“All flights by the Russian fleet’s maritime planes are carried out strictly in accordance with international airspace regulations,” the ministry said on Saturday, state news agency RIA Novosti said.

Several states, including Sweden, Turkey and Baltic nations, have complained about Russian airspace violations over the past few years.

Moscow last week also announced plans to test missiles in the region.

According to Avinor, the public operator of most civil airports in Norway, Russia sent a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) about missile tests from Thursday to Saturday in the Norwegian Sea.

Any missile testing “will not change the plan of our exercise,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

“We have not seen anything resembling a missile test, or even ships or aircraft in the area that would be relevant to documenting or monitoring missile testing,” said Robert Aguilar, captain of the USS Mount Whitney.

The Tupolev’s passage appeared to be part of Russia’s response.

However, British Royal Marine Colonel Garth Manger, in charge of operational duties aboard the US ship, took it in his stride.

“They’re watching us and we’re watching them,” he said.

“We are at sea, everyone’s got the right to be here. It’s international waters, it’s international airspace,” said British Admiral Guy Robinson, second-in-command of the maritime task force. “So clearly we monitor closely, but everything we see in this exercise is that they’ve been safe and professional.”

US Brigadier General Jason Bohm was equally phlegmatic.

“The largest issue we have had on this exercise has been the weather,” he said.

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