NATO intercepted 400 Russian military flights in 2014. That’s four times as many as in 2013. An intercept is necessary when the aircraft is flying with its transponder turned off to avoid detection. The Russian planes do not file a flight plan, meaning they are not supposed to be there, or they file as a commercial aircraft and turn off their transponder because it would identify them as a military aircraft. All NATO planes on all missions have their transponders turned on.
Why, with the Russian economy crumbling, would President Putin spend four times as much money on military flights over Scotland, England, Sweden, and other western European countries? What advantage does he gain by placing his airmen and his weaponry in harms way? Has his appetite for war games quadrupled? Is he testing the patience or the mettle of his sovereign (for the moment) neighbors? The answer to both questions is yes, but those are not sufficient reasons for the expenditure. His real motivations are reconnaissance and intimidation.
The Russian air force is searching for the flaws in NATO’s armor. What this tells us is that Russian military action against western Europe is already in the planning stages. It’s not a question of if, but when. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban has seen the writing on the wall. His rhetoric has turned frighteningly undemocratic, even nationalistic, and his rationalizing of Russian aggression are straining his nation’s ties to the EU.
Remember that in Ukraine it was the president who fell to Russia first. While the people, hoping for a better future, demanded that Ukraine join the EU, president Yanukovych rejected the deal. Mass demonstrations followed, think Occupy Wall Street with Molotov cocktails, while a “major Russian military exercise” played out on the eastern border. Yanukovych then fled to Russia, wherein was hidden the $70 billion he stole from the Ukrainian people. Perhaps Putin should ask Yanukovych for the $3 billion he claims Ukraine still owes Russia.
The point is that economic warfare is an insufficient answer to this problem. It’s like boycotting the money-laundering front business. If you don’t pay for protection, the organization will use their muscle to extract payment. Ukraine is in the grips of thugs who are escalating their techniques of “persuasion.” Hungary is next. The UK and Sweden are being told to mind their own business, or else. The thugs will get around to them soon enough. President Putin believes that Russia has “legitimate zones of interest abroad in both the former Soviet lands and elsewhere.” Apparently these zones include Chechnya, Crimea, Georgia, Ukraine, and now Hungary, but he has specifically stated that these zones reach beyond former Soviet lands. We must now either define Russia’s “legitimate zones of interest abroad,” or he will continue to define them for us.