Flights by Russian long-range nuclear bombers skirting British airspace routinely spy on UK air defences, but should not be considered provocative, a senior former Russian officer has told the Telegraph. Lt Gen Evgenny Buzhinsky, a retired officer who now heads a defence and security think tank in Moscow, said reconnaisance was normal practice and Nato nations had long carried out similar flights along Russia’s borders.
The head of the PIR analytical centre spoke as RAF Typhoons were again scrambled last week to intercept Russian TU-160 Blackjack bombers north of the UK.
The incident was the seventh time this year that RAF quick reaction jets have been scrambled to Russian military planes, in incidents the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has called “annoying” and a “nuisance”. David Cameron accused Vladimir Putin of posturing after Russian TU-160 Blackjack were intercepted off the Cornish coast in February, saying he was “trying to make some sort of a point”. “Because the situation has changed it is suddenly considered a threat. But before that no one thought of it as a threat.” Lt Gen Evgenny Buzhinsky
RAF sources said the Russian TU-160 Blackjack never enter UK airspace, but are an inconvenience and danger to civilian planes because they refuse to identify themselves. Pilots say the encounters are not hostile and they sometimes even wave at each other.
Lt Gen Buzhinsky said: “Reconnaissance of air defence systems is a normal practice for any air force, whether it is the Russian, American, or British one. Of course when a fighter or bomber is flying a patrol it monitors anti-aircraft systems and radars. I don’t see anything provocative in that whatsoever.”The flights were commonplace during the Cold War but stopped with the fall of the Soviet Union, when money for the country’s armed forces dried up. The flights began again in the middle of last decade, but have more recently come under increasing scrutiny as relations have plummeted after the annexation of Crimea.
He said: “You understand, in the 1990s for 10 years, even longer, our long range aviation didn’t do any flights or training at all. That was obviously to an extent down to economic reasons: the collapse of the Soviet Union, no money, no fuel, no nothing, pilots left [the service]. “Yet our American friends – not in Europe but on our eastern coast – they regularly continued, they didn’t curtail their flights or their strategic aviation at all. For them it was normal military training.”
RAF Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Typhoon fighter aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth to intercept two Russian TU-160 Blackjack aircraft who were flying in international airspace RAF Typhoon fighter aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth were last week sent to intercept two Russian TU-160 Blackjack. Photo: RAF Flight numbers have remained roughly constant in recent years around Britain. But they have risen sharply over the Baltic and Eastern Europe since the Ukraine crisis began, prompting Britain and its Nato allies to send fighters to patrol Baltic airspace. The Foreign Office earlier this year summoned the Russian ambassador to demand an explanation of why two Russian bombers flew down the English Channel
Lt Gen Buzhinsky claimed Russia was doing nothing new. He said: “It is a matter of interpretation: Russia’s long-range aviation began to fly more actively around 2005. So we’ve been flying like that for 10 years, on the same routes, with the same kind of proximity [to Britain]. Because the situation has changed it is suddenly considered a threat. But before that no one thought of it as a threat. We flew, you flew, no body cared. Everything depends on the context.”He went on: “There’s nothing unusual in it. Everyone does it. Just after the fall of the Soviet Union the west got used to Russia not doing anything. They got it into their heads that it was a collapsed economy with a destroyed army and so on.”
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff said the flights were nothing new but appeared to be Russia flexing its muscles in front of Nato.
He said: “It harks back to the days of the Cold War when in those days the Soviets were just telling us they were there, they were probing, they were looking for weaknesses in our system. I’d like to think they found no weak points at all.
“In terms of what Putin’s intent is, I think that’s one for Putin himself but undoubtedly he is telling Nato he is there.” source