The Irish Times view on the Putin playbook: Russian bombers near Ireland

One of the Russian Tupolev TU-95 Bear bombers that entered international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority off Ireland’s west coast.   One of the Russian Tupolev TU-95 Bear bombers that entered international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority off Ireland’s west coast.

One of the Russian Tupolev TU-95 Bear bombers that entered international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority off Ireland’s west coast. One of the Russian Tupolev TU-95 Bear bombers that entered international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority off Ireland’s west coast.

 

Just what is Russia up to? The Kremlin’s flying of Russian strategic bomber aircraft around Britain and Ireland on three occasions recently has certainly been noticed, particularly by Britain’s RAF and Nato.

The UK, France and Norway scrambled jets to monitor them as they flew around Scotland and Northern Ireland and down the west coast of Ireland before turning for home in the Bay of Biscay.

The Russian aircraft did not violate Irish sovereign airspace but flying through international airspace controlled by Irish aviation authorities on unscheduled flights when the aircraft are flying with their transponders turned off and without making contact with Irish air traffic controllers is not going to win you many friends in a busy area used by commercial and private aircraft.

Former US military commanders have said that the purpose of the flights is Russia essentially testing Nato and its response times, and mapping the radar contours of an area of significant geopolitical importance. The timing, one suggested, may be driven by Russian efforts to pick at a frayed “seam” between the United Kingdom and Ireland after the tense period around the UK’s departure from the European Union.

‘Routine training missions’

The Russians dismiss this talk, saying the flights are nothing more than “routine training missions”. They stress they are following all the rules of international civil aviation. But these flights seem like more strongman tactics from Vladimir Putin as he seeks to undermine multilateral alliances on his doorstep while consolidating power at home with a constitutional change that could keep him in power until 2036.

The Russian aircraft were identified as Tupolev TU-95 ‘Bear’ bombers, which are also deployed as long-range maritime patrol planes. Photograph: Ministry of Defence
The Russian aircraft were identified as Tupolev TU-95 ‘Bear’ bombers, which are also deployed as long-range maritime patrol planes. File photograph: British Ministry of Defence

Fiona Hill, the former adviser to US president Donald Trump and a long-time Kremlin watcher, recently said that Putin likes to see what makes people tick so as to identify vulnerabilities that he can later use to get people to do what he wants. Flying bombers around Ireland feels like a move straight out of the Putin playbook and should be taken seriously. Iveagh House should use diplomatic channels, through the EU and elsewhere, to make clear to Russia that it must not continue.

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