It's not clear what Vladimir Putin might be up to, but reports of a possible Russian sub spotted off Sweden are now followed by those of NATO, which says it yesterday intercepted at least 19 Russian fighter jets and bombers flying in three separate directions outside Russian airspace. Eight of the planes flew in formation from Russian airspace toward the Norwegian Sea, ABC News reports. Six turned back when intercepted by Norwegian air force F-16s, but two bombers continued on above Norway's coast to the Atlantic Ocean. They were eventually intercepted by British planes and tracked by F-16s from Portugal, Reuters reports. Four Russian planes over the Black Sea were tracked by Turkish air force jets, while at least seven other planes were intercepted over the Baltic Sea for the second day in a row yesterday.
While the planes didn't violate NATO airspace, the flights "represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace" and "such flights pose a potential risk to civil aviation given that the Russian military often do not file flight plans, or use their on-board transponders," says NATO, which has performed more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year—three times more than in 2013. "We see Russian aircraft near our airspace on a regular basis, but what was unusual is that it was a large number of aircraft and pushed further south than we normally see," a Norwegian military rep adds. A NATO official tells CNN the flights may indicate the start of unannounced Russian air exercises. (Russia is also suspected of hacking the White House.)