MOSCOW – A newly formed Russian army helicopter brigade has begun training flights in the northwest of the country near the borders with the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, a spokesman for the Western Military District said Wednesday.
“Helicopters of the army aviation brigade of the Western Military District, based in the Pskov region, have begun regular training flights in the skies over northwestern Russia,” Col. Oleg Kochetkov said.
Kochetkov said the flights involve dozens of Mi-28N Night Hunter and Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters as well as Mi-8MTV-5 and Mi-26T combat transport helicopters. The 15th army aviation brigade, formed in December and stationed at the Ostrov airbase, is fully equipped with new, recently-built helicopters. The brigade currently comprises three helicopter squadrons, with two more to be added in the near future.
Media in the former Soviet Baltic states, as well as Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom, have expressed security concerns about Russia’s decision to station the 15th brigade near NATO’s borders.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu earlier announced the beginning of military drills of units from the Southern and Western military districts near the borders with Ukraine and the Baltic states in response to an “unprecedented” increase of NATO military activity near Russia amid the Ukrainian crisis.
The combat drills come as NATO is ramping up its military presence in the region. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced earlier this month that the alliance would intensify air patrols over Eastern Europe and dispatch extra ships to the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas due to the crisis in Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that NATO was attempting to use the Ukrainian crisis as an imaginary threat to unite the alliance’s members and to push for Moscow's isolation.