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Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft fly over the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in April 2016. NATO will consider a Russian proposal to develop a plan to improve air safety around the Baltics, where close encounters with alliance and Russian aircraft have caused concern amid heightened tensions between the old Cold War rivals.
Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft fly over the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in April 2016. NATO will consider a Russian proposal to develop a plan to improve air safety around the Baltics, where close encounters with alliance and Russian aircraft have caused concern amid heightened tensions between the old Cold War rivals. (Courtesy U.S. Navy )

NATO will consider a Russian proposal to develop a plan to improve air safety around the Baltics, where close encounters with alliance and Russian aircraft have caused concern amid heightened tensions between the old Cold War rivals.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the topic was discussed during a meeting on Wednesday of the NATO-Russia Council, a forum for the two sides to debate issues. It was the first such meeting since last week’s NATO summit in Warsaw.

“Russia proposed a way forward on how we can address issues related to transponders and air safety,” Stoltenberg said after the meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“We stated clearly that we welcome that Russia is ready to sit down and discuss air safety, transparency, and including transponders, but we also asked for more details.”

NATO has been critical of Russian aircraft activity near the alliance’s borders, accusing Moscow of sending planes into the area without flight transponders, which makes planes invisible to commercial radar. In addition, the U.S. has responded angrily to a series of confrontations in the Baltic Sea in which Russian planes buzzed U.S. vessels, deeming such action high risk and unprofessional.

Moscow, for its part, has claimed that NATO warplanes often fly along the edges of Russian airspace without identifying themselves to civilian air traffic control.

Since 2004, NATO has based a contingent of fighter jets in the Baltic states, which do not possess their own air patrol capabilities. The Baltic Air Policing mission, which rotates every four months, is currently being conducted by four Portuguese F-16s and four British Typhoons.

During the meeting in Brussels, Stoltenberg said there were few areas of agreement. NATO’s plan to send four battalions into the Baltics and Poland was debated along with a U.S. Army initiative to rotate a heavy armored brigade into Europe next year on a full-time basis.

NATO says these are a defensive reaction to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Russia counters that NATO’s efforts are a provocation because it presents no threat to NATO member states.

vandiver.john@stripes.com

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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