The number of long-range Russian strategic bomber flights that buzzed U.S. airspace doubled last year from their norm, forcing American jets to frequently scramble and capturing the attention of hawks in Congress who believe the Kremlin is sending a veiled warning to President Obama to keep out of its affairs in Ukraine.
Russian bombers intruded into the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone — a transition area around U.S. airspace where the U.S. does not claim sovereignty but keeps close watch — at least 10 times in 2014, double the average of five incursions a year dating to 2006, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD.
The Air Force monitors for such incursions and requests information from all aircraft entering the Air Defense Identification Zone, and the Navy patrols the oceanic Exclusive Economic Zone below, a 200-mile buffer to the territorial sea. “We saw last year both an increase in their frequency as well an expansion of the areas where they flew. While these flights are ostensibly for training, they are also clearly intended to message to us,” Adm. William Gortney, the commander of NORAD, told The Washington Times.
No surprise here. Vladimir Putin watched the previous Russian chess match against the Principal Enemy end when the sclerotic old men in the Kremlin fell for the feint of Reagan’s “Star Wars” program and turned over their king. Now, he’s sending out pawns to test his opponent’s readiness and willingness to fight. Alas, in Barry Hussein, he’s got a a very flexible pushover.
Rep. Michael K. Conaway, a Texas Republican who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said he believes the Kremlin’s message is crystal-clear and that it ultimately could trigger a dangerous response. “On a tactical level, this is a pattern that shows they’re testing our responses to see what we’re doing and how we do it,” he said. “They’re very provocative, they’re subject to miscommunication, and some event could happen that no one wants.
Haven’t we seen this movie before?