When Bears Fly

Encroachments into UK airspace by Russian Air Force “bear” bombers and the Crisis in Ukraine are russian bombersbecoming regular headlines in the tabloids of late. With Russia flexing all its military muscles, should we be worried?


The logical place to start is the fall of the Soviet Union. The shattering of a juggernaut the size of a continent into a slightly smaller state (Modern-day Russia) and 15 other independent new states under the watchful eye of a heavy diplomatic, and military, US presence was never going to be an easy ride.

Fast forward nearly 25 years. America has withdrawn, and ex-Soviet states such as Ukraine have struggled to compete with a developing closed market to their west (Europe), and a powerful industrial neighbour to the east (Russia). Migration into Russia from the new states has a negative effect on their economies and the confidence in government (we think ours are bad!).

putin rides bear

Definite, actual image of Vladimir on holiday. Honest.

Meanwhile in Russia the influx has driven many to the far-right, who have been far from discouraged by Russia’s, slightly balder, answer to Chuck Norris (only, if you actually troll Putin online he WILL show up at your door). This has led to a surge in feelings of Russian national supremacy both from within its borders, and from disillusioned neighbouring populations. Let the tug-of-war commence.

You would have to be living in totalitarian state to believe that Russia had no part to play in the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, as those who live in Russia (a *ahem* democracy *ahem*) have been told informed. It would be a waste of time to catalogue the involvement in any detail, so instead we will look at what this all means for us.

Well it is unlikely anyone will want to risk going toe-to-toe with the great bear (a nuclear nation that spends 4.5% of its GDP on its military), and indeed this has been the case so far. But with the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu pretending the West is being provocative no matter what, diplomacy is becoming about as effective salt on a wound. But could we have at least seen this coming?

In April 2008 NATO opted to defer membership to two states to appease Russian concerns that they were being provocative by expanding eastwards to create a Russo-NATO frontier. Those nations were Georgia and Ukraine.

  • Four months later the Russio-Georgian war began, lasting 5 days and ending in the splitting of the nation and a permanent Russian presence in the now (disputed) ex-Georgian states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.


  • In Ukraine, Russian military involvement has led to the (disputed) ex-Ukrainian annex of the Chrimea and all-out war in the east of the country, with more to follow as the conflict continues through a meaningless and ineffective ceasefire.

It is clear that the only Russian ‘concerns’ were that two of its targets were about to become off-limits. NATO still haven’t addressed the deferral of the two nations despite being told they “would eventually become members” in 2008, 7 years ago, before both have been destabilised. *slow clap* I mean, even Swedish Eurovision opening titles had more of an idea conflict was coming than these guys:

sweden knew


Add to this the fact that Russia isn’t just playing chicken with Ukraine, but with us, a NATO member and this issue becomes much more urgent for us as a nation, and much less old ink on the pages of the metro.

It has been suggested by Sir Michael Graydon, former head of the RAF that the bombers are “snooping” on ongoing NATO training exercises in Scotland in a manner similar to instances during the Cold War. This is may be an attempt to test our reactions not only in the air, but also at sea, with HMS Argyll having to escort Russian naval vessels past Scotland and the admiralty making a formal request to NATO to track another Russian submarine.

However, the volume and brazen nature of the Russian forces seems more threatening than this. As the west slowly starts to take a more pro-active stance in Ukraine, with David Cameron sending 70 military advisors to train the pro-Ukrainian forces, and the US considering sending armaments, this seems like a warning that Russia can do what it wants, where it wants, when it wants. This suggestion is echoed by James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the international affairs think-tank Chatham House: “These things aren’t done by accident. Russia is trying to show it has got full spectrum capability warfare”.

This is why it is imperative for the western allies to show a strong response, perhaps with Ukraine as a proving ground. We also still maintain a full spectrum of capabilities, and we need not be afraid to rattle a few sabres to show we are not willing to turn a blind eye. If Russia’s ambitions fail in Ukraine, they may think twice before stirring trouble up elsewhere. We should not wait for them to think we don’t have the backbone, or capability for a fight, or that might just be what we get.
Andrew Ward

The Liberal Cynics – Defence







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