warplanes to fly with their transponders turned on at all
times while in international airspace. The July 13 sitting
of the NATO-Russia Council discussed the idea of requiring warplanes to turn their transponders on when flying
in the international airspace in the Baltics region, but I
think such requirement should be made global.
In addition to enhancing multilateral and international agreements on prevention of incidents, Russian and
Western leaders should make sure their military commanders do not take unauthorized actions that increase
the risk of an accident that could devolve into conflict.
Some in Russia might think their commanders take no
such risks, but this is not the case, according to Russian
President Vladimir Putin.
In a documentary on Russia’s taking of Crimea, which
aired on Russian television in March 2015, Putin said
Russian commanders had chosen not clear their actions
in the engagement of the U.S. military on at least one
occasion during the Crimean crisis. In the documentary,
the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet, Alexander
Vitko, describes how “it was decided” to send an Su- 24
attack plane to fly low over the deck of USS Donald Cook
in April 2014: “We had to show resolve to use force.”
Then the documentary’s creator, Andrei Kondrashov,
asks Putin to comment on that incident, and Putin says:
“It was not my decision. It was hooliganism on their [the
commanders’] part and didn’t tell me anything about it.”
With U.S. and Russian officials openly referring to each
other’s countries as adversaries in the wake of the Ukraine
crisis, a new Cold War may be inevitable. However, that
doesn’t mean the sides cannot jointly work to reduce
grave common risks that unintended mid-air and mid-sea
collisions and other military incidents can pose. n
Simon Saradzhyan is the founding director of the Russia Matters
Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science
and International Affairs. Saradzhyan also helps advance the
center’s U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism.
Prior to joining the Belfer Center in 2008 as a full-time research
fellow, Saradzhyan worked as a researcher, consultant and journalist in Russia for 15 years.
“A Point of View” is a Seapower forum wherein experts and
analysts express their views on a variety of thought-provoking
topics. The views expressed here are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Navy League of the United States.