Russia launches aerial war games in northwest
Russia has launched an aerial drill in the country’s northwest, with more than 50 fighter jets participating in the exercises, a military official says.
Colonel Oleg Kochetkov, the head of Russia’s Western Military District’s press service, said the aerial drill began on Tuesday with Su-34, MiG-29SMT, MiG-31BM and various Su-27 modification fighter jets taking part. The drill, he said, will continue until the end of the week.
During the exercises, the fighter pilots will practice cooperation and finding and destroying aerial targets and electronic launches of missile rockets.
Kochetkov added that one of the key stages of the drill will be the “Ladoga-1015” exercise, which will be conducted over the vast Lake Ladoga, Europe’s largest located northeast of the outskirts of the city of Saint Petersburg.
The drill comes a month after Russia’s Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov announced that Moscow plans to boost its military capabilities, particularly in the Crimean Peninsula, the Arctic and the westernmost Kaliningrad region, amid NATO build-up in Eastern Europe.
The decision to boost Russia’s military capabilities came as NATO is planning to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe amid the Ukrainian crisis.
The defense ministers of NATO’s 28 member states agreed on February 5 to establish six new command and control posts in the Eastern European nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.
NATO also decided to set up a new headquarters in western Poland to support northeastern member states as well as a similar site in Romania for members in southeastern Europe.
The Western military alliance has over the past year increased its presence, and conducted several exercises in Eastern Europe amid the crisis in Ukraine. In 2014, NATO forces held some 200 military exercises, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg having promised that such drills would continue.
Moscow has repeatedly condemned NATO’s exercises and military buildup toward its borders.
Relations between Russia and NATO strained after Ukraine’s Crimea reintegrated into the Russian Federation following a referendum on March 16, 2014. The military alliance ended all practical cooperation with Russia over the ensuing crisis in Ukraine last April.
The United States and its European allies accuse Russia of destabilizing Ukraine, and have imposed a number of sanctions against Russian and pro-Moscow figures. Russia, however, rejects the accusation and has retaliated with sanctions of its own.