On March 3, the pilots of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft nearly collided with a passenger plane that had just taken off from Copenhagen, according to the London-based think tank European Leadership Network. The pilots of the civilian SAS 737 plane with 132 passengers aboard managed to avoid a collision, thanks to good visibility. The British report also specifies that the Russian aircraft had not transmitted its position.
In total, the report which was released on Sunday, lists 40 sensitive incidents involving Russian maneuvers over the last eight months and categorizes 11 of them as particularly serious. Some of them had previously been reported individually, but an interactive map provides a striking picture of the extent of provocation by Russian military planes.
The think tank that commissioned the list of incidents was founded only three years ago. However, its executive board -- which lists a large number of former European defense and foreign ministers -- is well connected among European politicians, and its findings were widely cited by many European media outlets on Monday.
The report's authors examined and categorized a series of incidents since the beginning of the year. Besides the near-collision of a passenger plane off the coast of Denmark, the think tank lists two other "high-risk incidents," including the abduction of an Estonian security service operative by Russian agents and the alleged intrusion of Swedish territorial waters by a Russian submarine.
"These events add up to a highly disturbing picture of violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area," the authors conclude. As the map above shows, not all incidents were limited to Europe. Some occurred in the Black Sea, as well as in the Pacific Ocean nearer to North America.
Some Russian "incidents with escalation risk" this year appear to have been specifically aimed at the United States:
• On April 23, an armed Russian fighter undertook very threatening maneuvers in the vicinity of an American reconnaissance aircraft in the Sea of Okhotsk.
• On July 18, an American surveillance plane conducting operations near Kaliningrad was chased into Swedish air space after being approached by Russian fighters.
• In early September, Russian strategic bombers in the Labrador Sea near Canada practiced cruise missile strikes on the United States.
The report's authors blame an "aggressive Russian" behavior and have called on the Russian leadership to "urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture." More generally, they conclude that "all sides should exercise military and political restraint."
The publication of the report comes at a sensitive time. On Sunday, Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was widely regarded as the event that marked the end of the Cold War. In the run-up to the commemoration, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned that the world was on the brink of a new Cold War, given the hardening rhetoric and spike in provocations between Russia and NATO member states.
In a speech on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the Berlin Wall was “a message of confidence in our ability to tear down walls today and in future, walls of dictatorship, violence, ideology and hostility" -- a statement which was seen by many as directed toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.