Swedish spy planes will conduct flights over Russia Wednesday as part of an international agreement to observe military capabilities. The 1992 Treaty on Open Skies, which was created to help build military transparency in the aftermath of the Cold War, allows 34 signatory countries -- including Denmark -- the ability to make periodical reconnaissance flights over each other’s airspace.
“This is part of keeping an eye on countries around our borders,” said Col. Carol Paraniak of the Swedish Armed Forces, according to a report from the Local Sweden, an English website based in Stockholm. “Russia is always of interest to Sweden and is always going to be. The security political situation this particular year has changed a lot compared to last year. Tensions have increased dramatically."
While these types of flights have been conducted regularly since 2002, Sweden's part in the reconnaissance mission comes during a period of strained relations with Moscow. A number of Russian jets have been observed infiltrating the Scandinavian country's sovereign airspace over the last 18 months, and Stockholm has condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict.
Sweden’s security agency Säpo named Russia as its greatest threat after the country learned from a classified report last year that the Kremlin had rehearsed and simulated a huge military takeover of Gotland Island, which is a strategically positioned Swedish Island in the Baltic Sea. The report, supplied by the U.S.-based Center for European Policy Analysis, claimed that the simulation involved as many as 33,000 troops and dozens of aircraft. That followed an incident in September 2014, when two fighter jets entered Sweden’s sovereign airspace and caused chaos for commercial air traffic. Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called the incident the "the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians" in almost 10 years.
As a result, the Swedish government arranged Wednesday’s flight with Denmark. The advantage, claims Paraniak, is that the treaty offers oversight and can calm public and military fears.
“Everything becomes public immediately this way. If it turns out that the Russians have done something that looks really strange, you have the opportunity to ask questions through other channels,” said Paraniak. “That is the advantage of this, that it is very much in the public eye as opposed to intelligence operations which are veiled in secrecy.”
Russia will also make its own observation flight over Belgium later this week as part of the same treaty.