British Troops ‘Attacked In Russian Propaganda Plot’

COMMENT: Russia’s Military Adventurism Might Be Routine, But Should We Ignore It?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union tested the defence systems of NATO members in the case of war. The idea of war between Russia and NATO...

British Troops ‘Attacked In Russian Propaganda Plot’

Article by Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society

Over the past three years, military tensions between Russia and the West have increased as international attention focused the country’s revanchism in Ukraine and its intervention in Syria.

Many of those serving in the British forces will be aware of what this has meant for the contribution made by the UK to defending our allies on the front line in Eastern Europe.

The UK has joined NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and deployed British soldiers to Estonia as part of the Alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence initiative.

Personnel may also be aware of what this has meant closer to home.

Between 2014 and 2016, the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) was launched on 21 days in response to Russian military aircraft in the vicinity of UK airspace.

Royal Navy & RAF Russian Navy Escort

The RAF is not the only branch of the Armed Forces to have been mobilised in response to Russia’s military activities in the vicinity of the UK mainland – so too has the Royal Navy.

As a new report published by The Henry Jackson Society makes clear, on at least 11 occasions between 2014 and 2016 Royal Navy ships – including the Fleet Ready Escort – were mobilised in response to Russian naval vessels.

None of this is new. During the Cold War, Soviet military activities in the North Atlantic were commonplace.

For nearly 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s strategic bombers were essentially grounded and its naval patrols were placed on hold.

Only in 2007, when Russia was flush with hydrocarbon wealth, did President Vladimir Putin order the Air Force and Navy to resume regular long-range combat patrols.

Russia’s military adventurism may be largely routine, but that is not a reason to ignore it.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union tested the defence systems of NATO members in the case of war.

Today, the idea of war between Russia and NATO seems far-fetched. So why does Russia undertake such activities?

Through its activities, Russia has been able to gain all sorts of valuable military information about the chain of command within the UK defence system; the RAF’s and Royal Navy’s reactions times; the capabilities of the Air Force pilots and Royal Navy captains; and the levels of co-operation between NATO members.

Russia has also sought to record the ‘acoustic signature’ made by the Vanguard submarines that carry Trident nuclear missiles, which would have serious implications for the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Whitehall takes seriously the threat posed by Russia’s military adventurism near the UK. But it wasn’t always this way.

Between 2005 and 2013, successive British governments tolerated Russia’s behaviour, preferring to prioritise the economic side of its relations with Moscow.

All of this changed in 2014. As a result, when two Russian aircraft approached UK airspace in January 2015 – reportedly without their transponders turned on, causing a number of civilian flights arriving in Britain to be diverted – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office summoned Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s Ambassador to the UK, to account for his country’s actions.

There are measures the UK can undertake to reduce the threat posed by Russia’s behaviour.

It can make all reasonable efforts to ensure that military-to-military communication with Russia remains open.

It could expand its existing ‘Incidents at Sea Agreement’ (INCSEA) with Russia to include aerial encounters as a whole. It could develop an ‘Agreement on Preventing Dangerous Military Activities’ with Russia.

But there is little the UK can do to change Russia’s behaviour per se.