NATO has rejected air-safety proposals made by Russia which would have ensured all military planes flying in the Baltic region would operate with their transponders switched on. This makes no sense.
According to the Wall Street Journal, NATO officials said the proposals “would do little to improve” air safety — a strange response, given that NATO has repeatedly scolded Russia for allegedly flying its military jets over the Baltic with transponders switched off.
Headlines about ‘dangerous’ and ‘unsafe’ Russian military flights have been ten-a-penny over the last couple of years. Such stories have become so ubiquitous — and the media so obsessed with blowing them out of proportion — that at one point a woman in Cornwall became convinced that she saw Russian bombers overhead one day when she was out for a driving lesson.
One would imagine then, given NATO’s repeated criticisms and concerns over safety in the Baltic region, that they would have welcomed any kind of common-sense proposals with open arms — and yet, when Russia responded with plans to help alleviate NATO’s supposed concerns, suddenly, miraculously, transponders aren’t a key issue anymore. According to the WSJ report, some Western officials said they viewed the proposals as “a distraction” — without specifying what, in particular, Moscow might be trying to distract them from.
Officials said that all planes flying missions for NATO currently fly with transponders switched on, but conceded that individual members occasionally fly without using transponders. Thus far, however, NATO hasn’t condemned its own members for flying missions without transponders. The faux outrage is reserved for Russia.
But hold on, it gets worse. Along with the proposals on transponder use, Russia had also offered to host a meeting of air safety experts to discuss further cooperation and additional measures that could be taken. NATO rejected this proposal, too. Why? Because convening such a meeting would “violate” NATO’S decision to “suspend practical cooperation” with Russia.
So, let’s get this straight: NATO is worried about air safety in the Baltic, but when Russia proposes solutions, NATO tells them to take a hike — because engaging with Moscow would violate their principled stand against “practical cooperation”. On what planet does this make any logical sense?
Apparently, NATO is worried that switching transponders on still would not prevent Russian planes from engaging in dangerous manoeuvres and flyovers near Western planes and ships. If those issues are of genuine concern to NATO, that’s fine, but why not at least take a first step towards improving cooperation in the region? In a time of increased hostilities and mistrust, something surely would be better than nothing.
Which leads us to the obvious conclusion: It simply does not suit NATO to cooperate with Russia in this way. In particular, agreeing to an always-on policy for transponders would be highly inconvenient for the alliance’s most powerful member. The US won’t agree to switch on its transponders for every mission over the Baltic, because then they’d have to stop provoking the situation by flying intelligence-gathering spy planes near the Russian border.
Notably, NATO’s outright rejection of Russia’s proposals has been mostly ignored by major media. The vast majority of generally NATO-friendly outlets which reported on the proposals when they were made, have been silent. This fits with their penchant for reporting only that which makes Russia look uncompromising and stubborn and ignoring anything that might shed some negative light on NATO. The WSJ remains the only major publication that has reported the news.
Now that we’re on the topic, it’s also worth noting how the media treats just about any story which involves Russian jets and NATO. There’s a pretty standard template: The headline will usually have the word ‘dangerous’ or ‘unsafe’ in it. The piece itself will include a quote or two from a NATO official. And there will nearly always be a line about how this is not the first time Russia has been accused of the specified unsafe practices.
Nowhere will the author think to put the incident in context by sharing information regarding the frequency of NATO jets approaching Russian airspace. Rarely will the author include relevant details about American spy planes flying missions close to the Russian border. And certainly, the author will not highlight that unlike the US, Russia actually possesses a significant chunk of Baltic coastline — making it not so out of the ordinary for Russian planes to show up there. The above also goes for any similar story involving Russian or NATO jets in the Black Sea.
It’s such upside-down and inside-out reporting that one could easily imagine an American plane flying all the way to Moscow before CNN finally reporting that Russian jets had ‘aggressively’ intercepted the innocent American spy plane on a standard training mission.
Anyway, next time NATO complains about Russia’s ‘dangerous’ activity in the air, we should take it with a pinch of salt.
By Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer, journalist and media analyst. She has lived and traveled extensively in the US, Germany, Russia and Hungary. Her byline has appeared at RT, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, The BRICS Post, New Eastern Outlook, Global Independent Analytics and many others.