Air operations by a Russian naval task force sailing from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean represent a potential threat to the safety of civilian flights in the area, an international pilots' group warned Friday.
The squadron consisting of the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and two Udaloy-class destroyers represents the most ambitious Russian naval deployment since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. During its three-month tour, it is due to be joined in the Mediterranean by units of Russia's Black Sea fleet.
When it sailed across the North Sea last week, the Kuznetsov conducted air operations close to Norway's Gullfaks offshore oil field "without communication with any air traffic or other agency," said a statement issued by The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations to its members.
It warned civilian pilots that similar operations below 10,000 feet could occur anywhere along the fleet's route "without prior notification." They could also result in communications loss due to interference from military transmissions, the group said.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Oslo said Norway had notified Moscow about the potential threat to civilian helicopters serving the offshore oil platforms. The Russians replied they would curtail the flights _ all of which were over international waters _ and the task force moved away from the oilfields, ministry spokesman Bjorn Svenungsen said.
The cruise comes amid heightened tensions over Moscow's fierce opposition to U.S. missile defense plans, differences over arms control treaties, and disputes over other global crises, including the fate of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo.
In recent months, Russia's land-based Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers also have resumed regular long-range patrols over international waters in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans _ a move President Vladimir Putin described as necessary to protect the country's security.
The 60,000-ton Kuznetsov can carry 12 Su-33 fighters and five Su-25 attack jets, along with a large number of anti-submarine helicopters. The squadron reportedly is now in the Bay of Biscay.
A spokesman for the Russian Navy said he had no immediate comment about the pilots' group's warning.