Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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NATO Taking Part in ‘Air Policing’ Missions on Russia’s Doorstep

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is set to take part in “air policing missions” on Russia’s doorstep, according to a key British security official.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the United Kingdom is set to lead the operation alongside Germany, over the Baltic nation of Estonia, which shares its eastern border with Russia, in an interview with Sky News. He said the mission will help ensure “the security of Europe’s skies” and bolster “NATO’s presence in eastern Europe” at a critical point in relations with Eastern Europe.

The mission comes as tensions between NATO and Russia remain high amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which drew sharp condemnation from NATO member states. Russian authorities for years have expressed concerns about the eastern expansion of NATO, including the possibility of Ukraine joining the organization.

Wallace described the operation as an indication of NATO’s unity as it faces the ongoing Russian threat. NATO is not directly involved in the Ukraine conflict, as sending in troops would likely lead to significant escalation, but has rallied behind Ukraine, a non-member state, since the invasion began in February 2022.

“Joint operations of this kind, demonstrate the strength and unity of the NATO alliance and our shared resolve to maintain peace and security across the region,” Wallace said.

The United Kingdom is poised to send 300 Royal Air Force personnel to lead the mission. Germany, meanwhile, is set to provide Typhoon jets, he told Sky News.

Erwan Lagadec, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, told Newsweek on Monday that NATO began similar operations as soon as the Baltic states joined in 2004, as these nations have “limited air force capabilities.” These operations were further expanded after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“While there’s been a clear operational need for the mission ever since 2014, and even more so 2022, it’s served as a high-political signal as well, in that it has allowed Western Allies (including in Southern Europe) to affirm their solidarity with the Baltics and their concern vis-a-vis Russia’s military posture more generally,” Lagadec said.

Lagadec added that there is a possibility for the operation to go wrong, but that it still is not unwise for the United Kingdom to participate in it.

“So one potential scenario for uncontrolled NATO-Russia escalation has always been that one of these incidents would go wrong. Which now might be more likely given tensions specifically between Russia and the UK,” Lagadec said.

NATO and Russia have long had a tense relationship, as Russia views as the alliance as a threat to its hegemony over Europe’s eastern front. However, experts say NATO’s response to the war has shown its strength. Additionally, Sweden and Finland, which also borders Russia, have furthered their efforts to join, although their membership has stalled.

However, Ukraine continues to face obstacles to joining NATO. Western officials, including United States President Joe Biden, have raised concerns about corruption in Kyiv, which would need to be sorted out before its membership approval.

Newsweek reached out to NATO via email for further comment.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is set to take part in “air policing missions” on Russia’s doorstep, according to a key British security official.

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