"Simulated attack": Russian jet buzzes U.S. destroyer in Baltic Sea from 30 feet above

This wasn’t the first close pass over the U.S.S. Donald Cook made by a Russian jet during the past 48 hours. And it wasn’t just Russian jets that made an approach. Here’s what came knocking yesterday.

The nearest Russian territory, per Reuters, was 70 nautical miles away. The helicopter reportedly flew around the destroyer no fewer than seven times, taking photos and refusing to answer the radio when the American ship tried to hail them. That came after the Donald Cook endured 20 separate overflights from Russian jets on Monday, some from an altitude as low as 100 feet, forcing the ship to suspend its own flight training with a Polish helicopter crew that was aboard. Eleven more overflights by Russian jets were conducted yesterday, with one of them, captured below, apparently coming within 30 feet of the deck — a “simulated attack” (although the Russian jet wasn’t carrying bombs). “This was more aggressive than anything we’ve seen in some time,” a defense official told the Military Times. He labeled it “unsafe,” the first time that word’s been used over the last few years to describe Russian aircraft buzzing American ships, which has happened repeatedly. If you think U.S.-Russian relations are strained now, wait until some Russian pilot miscalculates on an attempted low overflight and ends up sinking an American destroyer when he slams into the hull.

What’s Putin up to here? Just some light humiliation of Obama to impress his peanut gallery back home, or is this a reprisal of sorts? It’s hard to notice real news lately amid the media din of Trumpmania but this development from two weeks ago is worth a little belated attention:

The Pentagon has drawn up plans to position American troops, tanks and other armored vehicles full time along NATO’s eastern borders to deter Russian aggression, in what would be the first such deployment since the end of the Cold War.

The Pentagon intends the plans as an escalation of a proposal it announced last year, when it said it was looking at ways to increase U.S. military deterrence in Eastern Europe, such as prepositioning older materiel in the region…

The new gear includes 250 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin self-propelled howitzers as well as more than 1,700 additional wheeled vehicles and trucks.

Combined with equipment already in Europe, “there will be a division’s worth of stuff to fight if something happens,” Mr. Work told The Wall Street Journal.

That means an armored brigade of around 4,200 Americans troops spread across six countries plus state-of-the-art equipment, addressing a chronic complaint from eastern European NATO members that NATO equipment currently positioned there is out of date. NATO itself announced in February that it was beefing up its presence in eastern Europe, tripling its Response Force to more than 40,000 troops and developing a “Spearhead Force” tasked with rapid response. In doing so, it anticipated a report from the Atlantic Council several weeks later warning that NATO was vulnerable in eastern Europe to Russian attack thanks to “chronic underfunding” by NATO’s European partners and “critical deficiencies” in their militaries. Quote:

A RAND corporation paper modelling dozens of war game scenarios in consultation with the Pentagon and published in late January, found that Russia’s forces would overrun Nato in the Baltic, and capture Tallinn and Riga, in a maximum of 60 hours, with a “catastrophic” defeat for defending alliance forces.

NATO’s taking baby steps to address that now, at least until President Trump is sworn in, decides that NATO is stupid, and leaves eastern Europe to its new (i.e. old) reality as Russian vassal states. In the meantime, here’s Putin expressing his annoyance about a minor NATO build-up on his western border.

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