Soon the fact of Russian bombers approaching UK airspace will cease to be news but for the moment the resumption of such flights by a Russian Air Force currently in receipt of burgeoning amounts of petrodollars is sufficiently novel for newspapers and other media to comment on the fact. The danger is that there will come a time when these can be passed off as ‘routine’ ‘nothing to worry about’. Indeed there are already signs that this process is beginning.

Thus today when two TU-160 ‘Blackjack’ bombers, 1980s strategic bombers with nuclear weapons capability entered a northern NATO patrol area and headed towards UK airspace, the MoD’s take on it was, to say the least, disingenuous:

“The re-emergence of long-range flights from Russia is something the Russians are entitled to do. All countries have the right to maintain or upgrade and exercise their defence capabilities. The motivation behind any Russian military activity is a matter for the Russian Government.”

It may well be that the Russians are perfectly entitled to do as they are doing, but to imply that the motives for so doing is a matter for the Russians alone is surely rubbish. It is to be hoped that we are expending considerable effort at finding out what they are doing.

Of course Russia is entitled to train their pilots. But if they are being trained to practice entering UK airspace in bombers which may carry nuclear weapons, then that represents a hostile attitude on the part of a government with which relations are less than good.

Of course the Russians are entitled to test their own reconnaissance capabilities but if that reconnaissance is directed at testing our readiness, our procedures, our communications and our response times, are we not entitled to ask why that should be so? And if they are testing us, then surely that can only be so that they might discover how best they might attack us? Approaching UK airspace with a view to testing OUR defence capabilities has nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘defence capabilities’ of Russia and everything to do with testing their own offensive capabilities. So the MoD statement is palpable and arrant nonsense.

Our eyes are fixed upon other horizons. Blair’s failed war in Iraq occupies centre stage and the war against the Taleban jostles it for attention. Meanwhile potential enemies are getting on with the job of putting themselves in a position to steal a march on us. We must soon pay attention to our conventional capabilities before it is too late.

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