During a scene that would not be out of place in a Cold War blockbuster, Russian jets flew over a large NATO maritime exercise consisting of dozens of ships and aircraft that were operating in international waters in Baltic Sea on Monday evening. A sailor from USS San Antonio, an amphibious assault ship, was able to capture the moment, showing two unidentified jets flying at low altitude and high speed over the ships. The footage was published on Youtube by the U.S. Navy.
“Sailors and Marines enjoy an air show courtesy of the Russian air force during #BALTOPS2015,” read the posting.
Along with the ships, around 5,600 ground troops are taking part in the joint exercise, which began Tuesday and will end on June 19.
“The goal of these at-sea scenarios is to sustain partnerships, knowledge and skill sets across a broad range of mission areas to strengthen the capabilities of both individual services and our international force,” said the official U.S. BALTOPS website.
Recently, another Russian jet buzzed a U.S. warship operating in the Black Sea.
NATO said in the lead-up to the exercise, which included fourteen NATO members plus Finland, Sweden and Georgia, that BALTOPS 2015 was not aimed at any specific threat. In fact, the exercise is now in its 43rd year. However, the significance and timing of the event cannot be ignored.
Russia and Europe are deeply divided over Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea in March last year and the continued involvement of Russian soldiers in the yearlong east Ukraine war. While Russia has denied its involvement, Europe and the U.S. have enforced strong financial sanctions on Russia last year. Russia has since flown hundreds flights close to the airspace of NATO countries, contributing to tensions not seen since the end of the Cold War.
In east Ukraine, where the Russian military is alleged to be assisting pro-Russian rebel forces, fighting has intensified in recent weeks, despite the signing of a ceasefire in February. Over the last 24 hours, Ukrainian officials have reported that eight soldiers have been killed and five wounded.