17:51 GMT25 May 2020
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    Tensions between Moscow and Washington escalated last month after the Trump administration officially began the process of withdrawing the US from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a key arms agreement aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear war in Europe.

    Russian and US Air Force nuclear-capable bombers and fighter aircraft flew near simultaneous missions off the coast of Norway last week, the Barents Observer has reported, citing statements by the USAF's European press office and the Russian Defence Ministry.

    On 28 March, five USAF B-52s made their way over the Norwegian Sea en route to Iceland, conducting training with Norwegian F-16 fighters which the USAF said was designed to enhance "the capabilities and readiness of the alliance" and send a 'clear message' to Moscow about the US "commitment to allies and partners." The flights were a follow up to separate B-52 missions in the Barents, Baltic and Black Seas, as well as just outside Russian airspace in the Russian Far East, earlier in the week.

    The same day, the Russian MoD confirmed that two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers escorted by MiG-31 fighters carried out a routine 13 hour patrol over neutral waters in the Barents, Norwegian and North Seas. Norwegian Army press spokesperson Maj. Elisabeth Eikeland confirmed the presence of the Russian planes, saying they were monitored "with different types of means like sensors, radar and aircraft."

    "We do not want to detail the flight patterns and exact locations," Eikeland noted, while emphasising that the presence of Russian planes in the region was "neither sensational nor abnormal."

    Russia's MoD confirmed that its Tu-160s were shadowed by Danish Air Force F-16s and British Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons "at certain stages of the flight." According to Eikeland, Norwegian F-16s were also scrambled to identify the Russian bombers during their March 28 flight.

    US Air Force B-52 bomber, file photo.
    © AFP 2020 / Paul CROCK
    US Air Force B-52 bomber, file photo.

    The US and its NATO allies have increased their military footprint near Russia's borders substantially since the 2014 Ukraine crisis, conducting a growing number of drills, and increasing the numbers of troops on permanent deployment in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania. Last year, the Russian MoD reported detecting and tracked over a thousand foreign spy planes and drones flying along Russia's borders.

    Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty late last year, with Washington formally starting the six-month procedure to suspend US obligations under the treaty on February 2. The US claimed that it made its decision due to treaty violations by Moscow in the form of its ground-launched 9M279 cruise missile, which Washington said has a range in excess of 500 km.

    The Russian MoD debunked the treaty violation claims at a press briefing in January, and accused the US of deploying dual-use missile defence system launchers in Poland and Romania which it said were also capable of firing nuclear-armed Tomahawk missiles. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the US withdrawal from the INF was a "direct step toward the destruction of the entire system of agreements in the field of international security."


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