NATO warplanes have had to scramble 400 times this year in response to an increase in Russian air activity around Europe not seen since the Cold War, the alliance’s chief said on Thursday.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members have sought to fill gaps in the alliance’s land, air and sea defences since Russia annexed Crimea and backed a secessionist movement in the eastern part of Ukraine.

Speaking to U.S., German and Estonian troops at a newly expanded and renovated air base in western Estonia, which once housed a Soviet military installation, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the problem was not just where the Russians are flying but that they are not turning on their transponders or communicating.

He said the flights – which have risen 50 percent over the last year – posed a risk to commercial air traffic.

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