Several Russian Su-24 attack aircraft conducted a “simulated attack profile” against the USS Donald Cook warship in the Baltic Sea near Poland, with one of the jets on Tuesday flying within nine metres of the destroyer.
The incident drew strong reactions from the US government, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying that the US warship was within its rights to shoot down the Russian aircraft.
“This is a communication opportunity for us, but it remains to be seen if we can use it,” political analyst Deividas Šlekys of Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science has told 15min.lt.
“It is up to our diplomats to send a clear message to the West that the incident is proof that the Russians are unpredictable. Therefore, they need to invest more, send troops, strengthen NATO and so on,” he added.
“We must use the commotion to convince the US political elites that this kind of Russian behaviour must be stopped. And the only way to do it is by sending troops, technology, perhaps more financial support,” Šlekys believes.
At the same time, Lithuania must “oppose those who will say that sending warships [to the Baltic Sea] only provokes unpredictable responses from Russia, therefore we should refrain from irritating Russia and sit down to negotiate”.
He said that the Russian flybys were Moscow’s way of testing America’s limits of tolerance.
“The Russians want to test how the West will react. Will there be an official response, any sanctions. Russia is trying to provoke the West in small steps, inch by inch. It is like spitting in someone’s face: the Russians are waiting to see whether the US will simply turn the other cheek or wipe the spit and say: if you do that again, I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Šlekys said that the incident did not, however, warrant a military response.
“In general, what happened over the Baltic Sea very near Lithuania’s shores was diplomacy disguising itself as military power. These were diplomatic moves to show who is stronger. The English would call it the ‘clash of wills’. We are soon to see whose will is stronger,” Šlekys told 15min.lt.