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Mounting Russia-West 'Close Encounters...Ripe With Escalation Potential'

Sukhoi T-50 jets fly during a display at the opening of the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon at Zhukovsky airport outside Moscow in 2011.
Sukhoi T-50 jets fly during a display at the opening of the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon at Zhukovsky airport outside Moscow in 2011.

A new report says the number and gravity of "close military encounters" between Russia and the West has increased visibly amid tension over Ukraine.

The policy-brief-style-report, titled "Dangerous Brinkmanship" and issued by the European Leadership Network, details almost 40 dangerous or sensitive incidents over the past eight months, including what it says was the near-collision of a Russian spy plane and an SAS jet carrying 132 passengers from Copenhagen to Rome on March 3.

The episodes include a near-collision in March between a Russian spy plane and a commercial jet taking off from Copenhagen for Rome with more than 130 passengers on board.

The Russian plane had not turned on its transponders, the device used to signal its presence to other aircraft.

The report says a collision was only avoided because of good visibility and quick reaction by the pilots of the SAS passenger jet.

The report also notes other high-risk incidents, including the abduction by Russia of an Estonian intelligence agent in September and a U.S. plane entering Swedish airspace without authorization after being chased by Russian planes.

It says the incidents "add up to a highly disturbing picture" of airspace violations and other dangerous actions "over a very wide geographical area" from the Baltic and Black seas to the U.S. and Canadian borders.

The authors of the report call on the Kremlin to "urgently reevaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture," and say that "Western diplomacy should be aimed at persuading Russia to move in this direction."

The authors also call on all sides to exercise restraint and "improve military-to-military communication and transparency."

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In early September, even as a NATO summit was under way in Wales, Russian bombers in the Labrador Sea near Canada conducted a drill of cruise missile strikes.

Cruise missiles fired from that location could theoretically target the Canadian capital Ottawa, New York, Washington, and Chicago, as well as the U.S. naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.

Russian and NATO forces have regularly tested each other's air defenses since the fall of the Soviet Union. But the new report says the number of such encounters has risen steeply this year.

By the end of late October, NATO had logged more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, three times more than last year.

Western military officials have warned that the increase in aggressive encounters raises the potential for dangerous errors and military escalation.

The "Guardian" newspaper cites former British Defense Secretary Des Browne as describing the abduction of the Estonian agent as "a Russian incursion into NATO territory" which would have had "incalculable consequences" if it had escalated further.

The report comes as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking in Berlin ahead of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, said the world was "on the brink of a new Cold War."

Gorbachev blamed the West and particularly the United States, saying it had declared "victory" at the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago, rather than pursuing "major demilitarization."

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