Russian military jets were spotted flying off the Alaskan coast this week, marking the country's fourth flight in as many days, CNN reported.
The most recent Russian flights on Wednesday and Thursday took place 700 nautical miles southwest of Anchorage, according to CNN. That is significantly farther from the U.S. coastline than the first two flights earlier in the week. The flights were made by IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft and Tu-95 bear bombers, the latter of which have nuclear capabilities.
Citing U.S. defense officials, CNN reported the flights posed no direct military threat. Rather, their frequency is likely "strategic messaging" in the wake of escalating military tensions between Russia and the United States, spurred on by President Donald Trump's recent decision to bomb an airfield in Syria, a Russian ally.
"This move by Washington has dealt a serious blow to Russian-U.S. relations, which are already in a poor state," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said following the Syrian attack.
Former state department staffer Howard Stoffer told CNN the frequent military flights are part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's larger strategy "to prove Russia is back in the game," suggesting Putin is "is trying to put the U.S. on notice that the Russians are everywhere and are back to expanding the limits of expanding their military power."
However, when military jets "buzz" U.S. military aircraft by coming too close — as the Russians have been doing since February — "that is an unprofessional action, because [it] upsets the operation and is dangerous for all parties involved ... that is where the line that is drawn," Stoffer said.
In a written statement provided to CNN, the Russian Defense Ministry defended its actions, claiming its military "regularly carries out patrol missions above the neutral waters of the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean."
"All such missions are carried out in strict compliance with international regulations and with respect to national borders," the statement continued.
Russia has also flown its jets off the coast of U.S. allies like Japan, CNN noted. For its part, the United States has demonstrated similar behavior, flying its own military jets off the coasts of both Russia and China.
Stoffer told CNN the flights could spark military retaliation from the United States, though it would likely come in the form of a more evasive action, such as jamming an aircraft's radar versus firing shots or shooting down a Russian aircraft.
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden said that should the situation escalate further, the United States would likely have the upper hand.
"No one wants to go to war with the Russians, but let me double down on another concept: The Russians really don't want to go to war with us," Hayden said during an interview on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront. "They are by far the weaker power."