According to the report by a London-based think tank, the European Leadership Network (ELN), close military encounters between Russia and the West have reached to Cold War levels, with the report also citing the Eston Kohver case in Estonia.
In the published policy brief, the ELN presents an overview and assessment of almost 40 sensitive incidents that have occurred over the last eight months, since the Ukraine crisis started. The majority of the documented incidents have taken place over the Baltic Sea.
Compared with the pre-March 2014 period, the situation has changed both with regards to the number of relevant incidents, and their gravity. Concerning the numbers, NATO officials indicated in late October 2014 that this year NATO states have already conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, three times more than in 2013. Estonia recorded six violations of its airspace in 2014, as compared to seven violations overall for the entire period between 2006 and 2013, the report says.
The abduction of Kohver, an Estonian security service operative, by Russian agents, is listed as “high risk incident” in the report. ELN defines “high risk” as the one with a high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation between Russia and Western states.
“On 5 September 2014, an Estonian security service operative, Eston Kohver, was abducted by Russian agents from an Estonian border post, on Estonian, and therefore NATO, territory. He was later taken to Moscow and accused of espionage. The incident itself involved communications jamming and the use of smoke grenades, and took place immediately after [US] President [Barack] Obama’s visit to the region and his repetition of security assurances to the Baltic States. Had the incident resulted in loss of life, there could have been dangerous and uncontrolled escalation,” ELN assessed.
ELN report also cites of what it calls “near routine incidents”, such as those that generally fit into the previously-established patterns of interactions between Russian and Western militaries, such as fighter aircraft “shadowing” one another’s reconnaissance flights or shadowing Russia’s Long-Range Aviation missions in the vicinity of national airspaces; observation of the other side’s exercises and emergency scrambles of NATO planes to intercept Russian planes approaching the airspace of the Baltic states.
“From 21 May to 13 August 2014, a series of short airspace violations by Russian aircraft were reported over the Estonian island of Vaindloo,” the report says.
Among other conclusions for Russia's motives, the report figures that Russian actions may serve propaganda-related and political aims.
“They serve as a demonstration of Russia’s capability to effectively use force for intimidation and coercion, particularly against its immediate neighbors,” ELN says.
In its recommendations, the ELN report insists that all sides should exercise military and political restraint and improve military-to-military communication and transparency. It also asserts that the Russian leadership should urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture, and Western diplomacy should be aimed at persuading Russia to move in this direction.