LONDON — Russia’s increasingly aggressive military flights near European airspace pose a risk to commercial air safety in the region’s crowded skies, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command said Friday.
The past year has seen a marked increase in the number of long-range Russian bombers that have approached European airspace near Britain, the Baltics or Scandinavia and have been escorted out of the area.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson said U.S. forces in the area are following accepted safety practices to make sure that accidents are avoided but Russian bombers do not take basic safety measures to prevent dangers to commercial air travel.
“When we fly on a flight plan, we announce it, we squawk, our transponders are on, we talk to air traffic control. We’re following all the international norms,” Wilson said in a meeting at the RAF club in London. “That isn’t happening with Russia.”
Wilson said so far Russian bombers have stopped short of crossing into European airspace but said the practice brings “unannounced” Russian bombers into international airspace heavily used by commercial pilots who depend on air traffic control guidance.
“We would not do that,” he said. “It puts people at risk.”
The Russian bomber runs have not caused any accidents.
But a civilian plane was shot down last summer over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukraine and the West suspect it was destroyed by a Russian surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels fighting in the area. Russia denies that and has suggested it was a Ukrainian missile.
Wilson said Russia’s motives in the increased bomber runs are unclear and part of a troubling pattern that includes the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
“Russia is using disinformation and misinformation and skillfully manipulating the media,” he said.