Amidst the endless discussions about meat and conspiracy theories about meatless burgers, a more important event took a back seat. Spanish President Pedro Sánchez and his Lithuanian counterpart, Gitanas Nauséda, had to be removed from the NATO military base where they were staying after two Spanish Eurofighter fighters had to take off from the Šiauliai base after spotting an unidentified aircraft flying over Baltic Sea airspace.
It was later confirmed that it was not one, but two Russian SU-24s. According to a NATO official, they did not have a flight plan, did not have their transponder on, and did not communicate with air traffic controllers. This situation came as a surprise to no one. It is quite common that, when NATO military exercises are taking place, or when a president visits a military base, there is some movement by the Russian army. Spanish pilots, who are currently in charge of protecting the airspace of the Baltic states, are more than used to such events.
The media reported the event as an anecdotal event, and it certainly was for the military deployed at the Šiauliai base. However, it is important to reflect on this event, which was overshadowed by the debate about the disunity of the current government. Not that snubs between ministers are irrelevant, but certainly more time should be devoted to analysing the background to two Russian planes flying over European airspace. This is not a casual event, and it certainly should not be treated as a non-issue.
Since Biden's arrival in the White House, the commitment of the United States, as well as other NATO members, to the Transatlantic Alliance has been strengthened. Security and defence cooperation has increased in recent months, a situation that Russia undoubtedly sees as a threat. At the last NATO Summit in Brussels on 14 June, it was relations with Russia and China that dominated the discourse of the political leaders gathered there. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time that the relationship with Russia is "at its lowest point since the Cold War".
Cooperation with Russia deteriorated over time until, in 2014, it was suspended following the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. That event also led to increased fears of possible Russian intervention in the Baltic states. This feeling is not helped by the presence of the army in Kaliningrad, the Russian territory isolated from the rest of the country and located between Poland and Lithuania. Having belonged to the Soviet Union, the Baltic states are now strategic NATO territories for the defence and protection of European countries. In May this year, the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania pledged to strengthen defence cooperation and agreed to purchase new missile launchers amid fears of Russian military movements on their borders. Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Laanet said in a statement that "NATO must send a strong and clear message about the Russian threat and make collective defence its most important goal in the next decade".
During a NATO naval exercise in the Black Sea involving the Spanish military, Russian vessels were reported to be closely monitoring NATO activities.Their presence underscores Putin's threatening attitude, and serves as a message to NATO member states, which have reinforced their message of disapproval of the Kremlin's actions.
Among NATO's major concerns is also the transfer of the Russian threat to the cyber world. This challenge, which must be addressed immediately by all allies, will undoubtedly be a source of growing tension with the Putin government. NATO has declared that it has no intention of seeking direct confrontation and has opted for deterrence and an increase in its members' defensive capabilities. Russia, on the other hand, remains firm in its stance. It is therefore essential that the members of the Atlantic Alliance remain committed to collective defence and strengthen their military and defensive capabilities.