Amid fears of Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow sends fighter jets to patrol inside Belarus

Moscow-watchers have focused on decoding signals from Russia, trying to determine what the Kremlin hopes to achieve, and how.

Updated: November 25, 2021 - 10:57pm

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Amid increased international speculation that Moscow is poised to launch an assault on Ukraine, Russia on Thursday teamed up with Belarus for a series of combat air patrol flights aimed at sending a message that one U.S. defense official termed "pure bombast." 

The patrol flights consisted of Su-30SM fighters jets from Belarus and Russia, and were meant to prevent "violation of the border in the airspace" of Belarus by Ukraine and NATO, the Belarusian Defense Ministry announced Nov. 25 on Telegram.

Officials in Moscow confirmed via the state news agency, Tass, that the flights were meant to deter incursions into Belarus.

The flights were in response to "a constant increase in the intensity of flights by NATO spy and combat planes along the state border of Belarus, including in Ukraine's airspace," Tass wrote, adding that "the flights by these aircraft have actually doubled lately and the number of US planes engaged in these operations has risen by 50 percent."

The combat patrols were not based on any threat from Ukraine or NATO, one U.S. defense official told Just the News. The official is not authorized to communicate with the media, and spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

"They are theater, and pure bombast," the official said. "There is no impulse by Ukraine or NATO to invade Belarus anywhere, by air or on the ground."

The air combat patrols are both "surprising and to be expected," the official said. "It's not something we specifically thought would happen. But Moscow has been making a point lately of rattling the status quo in regard to Ukraine and NATO. This falls in line with that line of behavior."

International observers in recent weeks have noted with alarm that Russia has massed large numbers of troops along its border with Ukraine. Both U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said that possibly 92,000 Russian forces are concentrated in key sectors.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the troops prompted "real concerns" about a possible incursion from Russia, warning that such a move would be a "serious mistake."

Moscow-watchers have focused on decoding signals from Russia, trying to determine what the Kremlin hopes to achieve, and how.

Previously, when Russia has launched attacks outside its borders — such as in Crimea or Georgia — Moscow claimed that it was provoked. Recently, similar rhetoric has resurfaced, with Moscow saying that NATO exercises and routine naval movements are provocations. 

The tension comes as Moscow ramps up announcements about its air defense systems and military rotary-wing fleet. 

The Russian defense industry will showcase new systems beginning this month at the EDEX 2021 international defense exposition in Egypt. The systems include the "Vityaz" long-range surface-to-air missile systems, the "Viking" medium-range air defense weapon, and other launchers, Tass reported. Additionally, Russia's defense industry will showcase a slate of combat rotary wing aircraft, including attack and reconnaissance helicopters.

All told, the various signs indicate that Moscow is showing that it has the means to carry out a military strike if it chooses to do so, the U.S. defense official said.

The United States' and Russia's top military officers spoke over the phone on Nov. 23, amid heightened Western concerns over Russian military moves near the Ukrainian border.

Kiev and its Western backers have raised alarm bells in recent days over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, whose military intelligence chief claimed on Nov. 21 that Russia has amassed 92,000 troops near its borders and was readying an attack in early February.

Mosocw has called such allegations "groundless."

The Kremlin did not immediately return a request for comment.