U.S. military officials have suggested that the uptick in Russian air activity over the Pacific in recent days is linked to the Ukraine crisis.
Moscow denied implications that they were gathering intelligence, demonstrating their military force, or both. They also strenuously denied that the increased number of planes in the Asia-Pacific region had anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis has left much of that country in the hands of pro-Russian separatists. Many in the U.S. and other western nations believe that the separatist movement is partly fueled by Moscow and that Russia is aiming to augment its power in the region, according to CNN.
The head of the U.S. air forces in the Pacific, General Herbert Hawk Carlisle, said that there had been a significant increase in Russian activity in the Asia Pacific.
He continued explaining his view on Moscows reasons for this, framing the countrys actions as meant to provoke the U.S.: Certainly whats going on in Ukraine and Crimea is a challenge for us and its a challenge for us in Asia Pacific as well as Europe.
General Carlisle indicated that Russia had used long-range aviation to reach the California coast and circumnavigate Guam; he also noted that Russia had conducted surveillance of military exercises in South Korea and Japan, many of which involved U.S. forces.
At a meeting on Monday at the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the General made clear that he believed Russia to be gathering intelligence on U.S. military forces.
Given many western nations disapproval of Russias support for the Ukraine separatist movement, the increased military activity may also represent a way for Russia to flex its muscles, showing the U.S.among other nationsthat it has the power to control its region of the world.
Russia claims faulty reasoning
While the number of Russian planes over the Pacific has the U.S. worried, Russian aircraft have stayed in international airspace. Moscow denies any strategy in connection with Ukraine.
Responding to General Carlisles statements, a high-ranking Russian official with the countrys Defense Ministry said that the air activity was unrelated to the Ukraine crisis and should not be interpreted as a provocation to the U.S.
The official went on to say that the flights were both scheduled and not out of the ordinary. He continued explaining: First, the United States over the Bering Strait factually borders on the Russian Federation. Therefore, to assess flights of Russian AF planes over the neutral Pacific as some kind of challenge to the United States is at least strange Second, linking scheduled flights of Russias warplanes in the eastern part of the Pacific to the developments in Ukraine can only be caused by poor knowledge of geography.
Calling up the Cold War
Adding fuel to the fire, both the U.S. and Russia have mentioned Cold War relations in the back and forth over Russian air activity.
According to Reuters, the senior vice president for Asia at CSIS said that the number of Russian planes tracked over the Asia-Pacific region was evocative of the Cold War.
On the other hand, a senior Russian military official noted to ITAR-TASS that the intensity of the American reconnaissance aviation flights near Russias eastern borders has never subsided since the end of the cold war period.
With both sides suggesting that the other is assuming Cold War-like attitudes, the stakes and tension are rising. Though neither the U.S. nor Russia hopes for a return to those times, the American government and numerous other countries are concerned over Moscows next step.