US jets intercept Russian warplanes near Alaska

WASHINGTON (AFP): Two American F-16 warplanes intercepted four Russian aircraft near Alaska, the joint US-Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) said Tuesday.

The “routine” intercept of the Russian planes — which included Tu-95 bomber and Su-35 fighter aircraft — occurred Monday, NORAD said in a statement.

“Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and did not enter American or Canadian sovereign airspace,” it said, adding that such Russian activity “occurs regularly and is not seen as a threat, nor is the activity seen as provocative.”

While the intercept of the Russian aircraft was routine, US warplanes stationed in North America saw rare offensive action this month, shooting down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon and three unidentified objects.

US awards $522m contracts

The US Army announced Tuesday that it had awarded $522 million in orders to two companies to manufacture 155 mm artillery ammunition for Ukraine.

The orders, officially decided on January 30, went to Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. and Global Military Products Inc. and came amid worries that Ukraine was fast depleting the stockpiles of artillery shells from the United States and other allies.

Deliveries of the new ammunition are scheduled to begin in March of this year, the Army said in a statement.

The contract is funded by the Pentagon’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Ukraine and Russia have fired huge amounts of artillery munitions at each other since the Russian invasion began almost a year ago.

In November a US official said Russian forces were firing about 20,000 artillery rounds a day.

Ukraine’s rate was between 4,000 and 7,000 rounds per day — faster than allied Western manufacturers can produce to keep pace.

The rates have plunged since then, as the winter set in and both sides face shortages and conserve ammunition.

“The war in Ukraine is consuming an enormous amount of munitions, and depleting allied stockpiles,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

“The current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production. This puts our defense industries under strain,” he said.

Russia denies plotting coup in Moldova

Russia on Tuesday slapped down as “completely unfounded” accusations from Moldova that Moscow was plotting to violently overthrow the country’s pro-European leadership with the help of saboteurs.

“Such claims are completely unfounded and unsubstantiated,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu on Monday accused Russia of plotting her government’s overthrow.

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that Kyiv had “intercepted the plan for the destruction of Moldova by Russian intelligence”.

On Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry accused Kyiv of seeking to pit Moldova against Russia and accused Moldovan authorities of Russophobia.

“Unlike Western countries and Ukraine, we do not interfere in the internal affairs of Moldova and other countries of the world,” the ministry said.

“Russia does not pose a threat to the security of the Republic of Moldova,” it added, saying that “stable and friendly relations” with Russia could benefit Moldova.

Last February, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine and called on the Ukrainian army to overthrow Zelensky.

For years the Kremlin has sought to keep post-Soviet states such as Ukraine and Moldova in its sphere of influence, but both countries have pivoted to the West.

Russia maintains a so-called peacekeeping force in a breakaway region of eastern Moldova called Transnistria, which borders Ukraine.

The United States, responding to Sandu’s allegations, voiced support for Moldovan sovereignty.

“We’re deeply concerned by reports of a plot by Russia to destabilise Moldova’s democratically elected government,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

“Russia has a long history of malign influence both in Moldova and the region and as such we’ve worked closely with Moldova to build its political resilience and to counter long-term efforts by Russia to undermine Moldova’s democratic institutions,” he said.

The United States in October imposed sanctions on two Moldovan oligarchs for allegedly working with Russia to undermine the country’s democracy.

Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people neighbouring Romania and Ukraine, received EU candidate status last year.