The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was forced to scramble its air forces more than 300 times in response to Russian military aircraft over the course of 2023, the international organization said Friday.
“NATO has standing air-policing missions that calls for Allied jets to scramble when there are signs of Russian military planes approaching Allied airspace in unpredictable ways,” NATO said in a statement.
The hundreds of incidents happened as Russia continues to utilize land, air and sea forces to score strategic advantages in its war with Ukraine. Russia first invaded its smaller, western neighbor in February 2022.
“Russia’s war against Ukraine has created the most dangerous security situation in Europe in decades,” said acting NATO Spokesperson Dylan White. “NATO fighter jets are on duty around the clock, ready to scramble in case of suspicious or unannounced flights near the airspace of our Allies. Air policing is an important way in which NATO provides security for our Allies.”
According to NATO’s statement, most of the encounters were “safe and professional,” and happened over the Baltic Sea.
“Along NATO’s eastern flank, Russian military aircraft have a history of not transmitting a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, not filing a flight plan, or communicating with air traffic controllers,” NATO said.
And, “The vast majority of aerial encounters between NATO and Russian jets were safe and professional. Breaches of NATO airspace by Russian military aircraft remained rare and generally of short duration.”
Following Russia’s invasion last year, NATO bolstered its eastern flank with substantial air defenses, including more fighter jets, surveillance flights and ground-based air defenses.
The Russia-Ukraine war, nearing its second year, saw the largest aerial assault of the war so far on Friday, when Russian forces fired more than 120 missiles and utilized dozens of drones to bombard cities across Ukraine.
At least 18 people were killed and dozens of others were wounded in the onslaught that spanned more than 18 hours.
Ukraine is not a NATO member, although it is seeking membership and allied members have expressed sympathies to officially add Ukraine as a member after its war with Russia concludes.
Reuters contributed to this report.