Two F-16s of the Royal Dutch Air Force intercepted a pair of Russian bomber airplanes over the North Sea on Tuesday. Two Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers, commonly referred to by their NATO designation “Bears,” were escorted by the Dutch fighter planes for some time.
Monday night, fighter jets of the British, Danish and German air forces were first to respond to the presence of the Russian bombers. The Dutch F-16s, part of the Quick Reaction Alert stationed near the city of Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands, were called to action Tuesday afternoon.
Russian bombers last penetrated European airspace in March when two Tupolev 160s were intercepted by British Tornados off the northwest coast of Scotland. The Russians have been conducting over a dozen of such flights over northern parts of the Atlantic and the Arctic in recent months. Last September it was reported that Russian submarines had been noticed stalking Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines.
Tension has been rising in the Arctic for quite some time. With ice caps melting and vast natural resources becoming readily available for exploitation, Moscow is determined to claim a stake in the region, planting its flag beneath the Pole in August 2007 and patrolling the area with bomber planes and warships in good Cold War fashion. It has also invested over a billion dollars in the expansion of its port of Murmansk which is supposed to double its capacity by 2015.
Under existing Under Nations sea law, the eight Arctic states have jurisdiction over waters extending twelve nautical miles from their shore while their exclusive economic zones stretch up to two hundred miles into the Arctic Ocean. Russia counts for the bulk of Arctic land and has made its designs abundantly clear in recent years.
The Arctic is estimated to contain about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Together this represents 22 percent of all untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons. Over 80 percent of these resources lie offshore.