Russians, Americans Take Part in Joint Air Force Counter-Terror Drill

Patrick Goodenough | August 27, 2012 | 4:28am EDT
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Then-Russian Prime Minister (now president) Vladimir Putin inspects a new Russian fighter jet after its test flight near Moscow in June 2010. (AP Photo)

( – The U.S. may be troubled by Russian support for Syria’s Assad regime, freedom of expression violations and politically motivated prosecutions, but military-to-military cooperation continues, in line with the administration’s so-called “reset” of relations with the Kremlin.

For the third summer in a row, Russian Air Force personnel will join their American and Canadian counterparts in a joint counter-terror exercise beginning Monday, simulating a cooperative response to an aircraft hijacked by terrorists in international airspace.

Exercise “Vigilant Eagle” involves Russian, U.S. and Canadian personnel operating from command centers in the U.S. and Russia.

It is one of several exercises and exchanges agreed upon in a July 2009 agreement – an early product of the “reset” – signed by then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen and his Russian counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, restoring joint activities that were halted by the Bush administration in response to the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008.

A statement by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said the Aug. 27-29 exercise will simulate an international flight “originating in Alaska and traveling into Russian airspace followed by one originating in Russia and traveling into the U.S. airspace.”

“The basic premise is that a foreign-flagged commercial air carrier on an international flight has been seized by terrorists,” it said. “The aircraft will not respond to communications. The exercise scenario creates a situation that requires both the Russian Air Force and NORAD to launch or divert fighter aircraft to investigate and follow the aircraft. The exercise will focus on the cooperative hand-off of the aircraft between fighter aircraft of the participating nations.”

NORAD said the exercise was part of an initiative aimed at transforming the relationship between the U.S. and Russian militaries and improving cooperation in preventing possible threats of air terrorism.

According to a Russian military spokesman, the exercise will involve personnel at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Ala., and at two Russian bases in the country’s Far East.

Other initiatives to come out of the 2009 U.S.-Russia agreement included strategic discussions between U.S. Joint Staff and Russian General Staff, orientation for Russian military cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, other military academy faculty visits and a naval war game.

“As global powers, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility for ensuring peace and stability in the world,” the White House said in a statement at the time.

“Reestablishing our military-to-military bonds will enhance transparency, establish clear paths of communication, and focus our collective efforts on today’s global strategic challenges.”

In recent weeks U.S. officials have expressed strong concerns about Russian policies at home and abroad since Putin began this third presidential term in May, particularly its decision to join China in vetoing – for a third time – a U.N. Security Council resolution responding to the crisis in Syria.

State Department spokesman have also spoken out about “the democratic trend in Russia,” including prosecutions of opposition figures and “cases where freedom of expression has been squelched,” such as the jailing of members of the anti-Putin rock group, Pussy Riot.

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