In the wake of a NATO air force drill over the Arctic, Russia began to launch a massive and unexpected air force exercise as a retaliatory action. Up to 250 aircraft, 12,000 troops and about 700 pieces of artillery together with military hardware have reportedly been deployed for the four-day military exercise. "The pilots have received flight assignments and started navigation calculations. The pilots will enter the calculation data into onboard aviation systems of aircraft and helicopters," the Russian Ministry of Defense's press office said on Tuesday, according to Russian state-run Itar Tass news agency.
A NATO air force drill over the Arctic began on the same day. The Arctic Challenge Exercise will span 12 days, with nine European countries participating in the air drill to prepare for a potential military crisis with Russia, which has recently increased military activity along its borders with Scandinavian countries. Finland, Switzerland and Sweden, all non-NATO countries, also joined military drills over Sweden and northern Norway with NATO countries, following newly assertive Russian policies in Arctic regions. As part of the drills over the Arctic, Finland will send 16 F-18 Hornet fighter jets, as reported by the Russian state-run Sputnik International news agency. F-16s, Eurofighters and Jet Falcons will also be provided by other countries in the military drills.
After Finnish airspace was violated by four Russian jets, Finland warned EU countries and the U.S. to take affirmative action against the Russian threat that has ignited old Cold-War fears and rhetoric in ex-Soviet Baltic states. Russian involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea has led to growing fears among northern European countries, including Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, of renewed Russian aggression.
Following the deepening rift between Russia and NATO over the Ukrainian crisis, the Arctic has become a new area of conflict in the already-deteriorated relationship between the West and Russia. After the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea by Russia in March of last year, there has been growing fear among European countries that the Cold War years could be making a return. Russia's increased militarization of rebel-held areas in the Donbass region of Ukraine in the country's east and its explicit support of pro-Russian separatists who are fighting an insurgency for regional leadership close to Russia, have prompted fears among Western countries. As tension between Russia and the West grows, the ex-Soviet Baltic states and Scandinavian countries see Russia as a clear threat to their national security and territorial integrity.