Close military encounters between Russia and the west have jumped to cold war levels, with 40 dangerous or sensitive incidents recorded in the past eight months alone, according to a report published on Monday.

The report, Dangerous Brinkmanship by the European Leadership Network, logs a series of “highly disturbing” incidents since the Ukrainian crisis began earlier this year, including an alarming near-collision between a Russian reconnaissance plane and a passenger plane taking off from Denmark in March with 132 passengers on board.

What made the incident especially dangerous was that the Russian plane did not have on its transponders, the usual method of signalling its presence to other aircraft.

The report by the London-based thinktank comes after a warning from former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev that the world is “on the brink of a new cold war”.

The encounters have taken place mainly around the Baltic Sea but also in the Black Sea and along the US and Canadian borders.

“We believe the nearly 40 incidents logged are a very serious development, not necessarily because they indicate a desire on the part of Russia to start a war but because they show a dangerous game of brinkmanship is being played, with the potential for unintended escalation in what is now the most serious security crisis in Europe since the cold war,” say the report’s authors Thomas Frear, Lukasz Kulesa and Ian Kearns.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russian and Nato forces have routinely tested one another’s air defences, with both sending planes close to international borders to see how fast the other responds. But this year has seen not only a surge in such encounters but limits being pushed to new, more risky levels.

The US, Britain and other Nato allies accuse Russia of ramping up military action, but Moscow places the blame on the US and its European allies, accusing them of provoking the crisis in the Ukraine and through the imposition of sanctions on Russia. Gorbachev, normally a critic of Vladimir Putin, took the unusual step of siding with the Russian leader and called for new mechanisms for lowering tensions.

Some anti-war activists in the US and the west argue that Nato is hyping up encounters and risking all-out war.

The report authors urge the Russian leadership to “urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture”. They also call on all sides to exercise military and political restraint and improve military-to-military communication and transparency.

Nato logged up to late October more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, three times more than last year…. see more

source: Guardian UK