Russia And The West: Close Encounters Of The Cold War Kind : Parallels Russia and Western countries have had several close encounters in the air and at sea recently. Russia says these are just routine military exercises, but NATO and its Nordic partners are alarmed.

Russia And The West: Close Encounters Of The Cold War Kind

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now let's hear about what you might call close encounters of a Cold War kind. NATO's commander says more Russian troops and tanks moved into Ukraine this week. And ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russia's armed forces have been showing up in unusual places. A new study out this week says there have been at least 40 military encounters in the air, on land and at sea involving Russia and NATO or its partner countries. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the rising tensions and the potential risks.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A Scandinavian airliner had just taken off from Copenhagen on a flight to Rome back in March when the pilot saw a Russian military aircraft in their path and had to maneuver around it. Ian Kearns, who runs the London-based security think tank called the European Leadership Network, says the Russian plane was not transmitting any identification signal.

IAN KEARNS: This was an instance of the Russian military trying to be moving around the European airspace without being detected, but doing so in commercial airline corridors. And in this instance, there was very nearly a tragic accident. And it was only the evasive action of the civilian airline pilots that avoided that.

KELEMEN: He says the incident received only limited media attention at the time because it was seen to be an isolated one, but in his report, Kearns highlights the increasing number of these incidents and what he calls the irresponsible nature of some of the Russian military activity.

KEARNS: We're talking, on some occasions, about Russian and NATO aircraft flying within 10 meters of each other. You know, we're talking about an attempt essentially to intimidate each other in the air.

KELEMEN: Russia's neighbor Finland, which is not a NATO member, has been raising alarms, too. Finland's ambassador to Washington, Ritva Koukku-Ronde, says there's been a lot more Russian military activity since tensions mounted over Ukraine.

AMBASSADOR RITVA KOUKKU-RONDE: There is increased activities which we have observed as well. And there has been some violation of our airspace. And of course this is a testing of our reaction capabilities and our capabilities in general.

KELEMEN: Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia. And Ambassador Koukku-Ronde says her country has boosted defense spending as it keeps an eye on this.

KOUKKU-RONDE: And the border is well-kept also, from all directions - air, ground, sea. So we have a very functional border.

KELEMEN: Other countries in Europe aren't as used to dealing with the Russians. And a former U.S. air attache in Moscow, Robert Berls, worries about this.

ROBERY BERLS: At times where you have incidents such as aircraft intercepting other aircraft or incidents at sea if you don't have the constant communication going back and forth and the understanding that comes from being in close contact, this significantly raises the risk.

KELEMEN: Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, shrugs off all this talk about a newly aggressive Russian military posture. He told reporters over lunch last week that the Russians, quote, "fly a little more than we used to." But he said Russian crews have to fly for training, and not only in Russian airspace. Kearns of the European Leadership Network says no one has a problem with the fact that the Russians are more actively training.

KEARNS: But what they're doing is they're flying into other countries' airspace unannounced. They're conducting simulated attack runs against other countries, in NATO and elsewhere. They abducted an Estonian intelligence officer on Estonian soil, which is NATO soil. And they used stun grenades and the jamming of local communications to make that happen.

KELEMEN: He says NATO sources have confirmed to him that this year the alliance has had to fly three times as many missions to intercept Russian aircraft as it did in all of 2013. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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