A retired top U.S. military official says showboating Russian fighter pilots are posturing for social media, trying to go viral to raise the profile of their military and maybe sell some airplanes. In the past few weeks U.S. military have complained their aircraft have been buzzed by Russian fighters, including an inverted Su-35 that came within 25 feet of a P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft. “Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” retired Gen. Frank Gorenc told military.com. Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, said cash-strapped Russia needs the YouTube hits to remind the world that it’s still a force to be reckoned with.
Along with the COVID-19 issues, Russia has suffered a major loss of oil revenue and is using social media to bolster its position as a world player. “You know, it goes kind of viral,” Doug Barrie, a senior fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.” He also said it might be a marketing ploy since the aircraft of choice for YouTube intercepts has recently received an upgrade with the formidable Su-35 replacing older Su-27s and Su-24s. “It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said. Gorenc agreed. ”The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc said. ”They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”