The Ministry of Defense of Russia said a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance plane did not fly over Estonian airspace on October 21 but was following a flight plan over international waters.
“The flight was conducted in strict accordance with international laws on airspace usage,” the ministry said.
Uudised.err.ee reported that the IL-20 was 500 meters deep in Estonian airspace for a minute west of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa islands in the early afternoon of October 21, with no flight plan, its transponder switched off and refusing radio contact with Estonian air traffic controllers.
Portuguese F-16 fighter jets took off from Šiauliai in Lithuania and established visual contact. By that time, the aircraft was back over international waters. The decision to scramble NATO jets based in Lithuania not Estonia was made at a NATO air control center in Germany. The reasons could be that the Russian aircraft approached from the west, having previously made contact with Danish fighters, or that the Portuguese fighters were at a higher readiness level compared to the German aircraft based at Ämari, near Tallinn, or already in the air.
Marko Mihkelson, the head of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the recent intrusion is different compared to the usual airspace violations.
He said on his social media site that the norm for airspace violations is intrusions, lasting under a minute, near Vaindloo Island in northern Estonia. Such violations result from an unsolved airspace issue where Russian air traffic control overlaps Estonian airspace.
“The reconnaissance aircraft might not have just gotten lost as Russian activity on and over the Baltic Sea has increased recently,” Mihkelson said.
A previous version of the story did not say why NATO jets from Lithuania, not from Ämari airbase were sent to intercept the Russian aircraft.