Air Force Says Russian Airspace Violations Not Out of Norm ({{commentsTotal}})

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Russian military aircraft have entered Estonian airspace five times this year, but that is no more than usual, according to the Estonian Air Force.

The daily Postimees (in English) reported Tuesday that there have been five airspace intrusions of Estonian airspace by Russian military aircraft during that time frame; the first on May 21, the last occurring on August 13.

Four of the incursions were by IL-76 military transport aircraft, and one by a IL-20/22 reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft. All of the Estonian airspace violations lasted less than one minute, and all took place over Vaindloo, which is a small island located in the Gulf of Finland 25.7 kilometers to the north of the mainland. Vaindloo, in Lääne-Viru County, is the farthest point north in the country.

"In my opinion, the violations and incursions have not been very dramatic and some journalists have made an elephant out of a mosquito,“ Estonian Air Force public affairs officer Alar Laats told ERR News. "Maybe the creation of fear has been the intention of Russia."

Laats noted that there have been a number of violations of aviation rules outside of Estonian airspace in the Gulf of Finland, and that the fighters out of the NATO Baltic air patrol at Ämari air base have reacted and approached the aircraft for identification purposes. Those other violations can include flying with switched-off transponders that should identify aircraft, and not answering traffic control questions. But Laats told ERR News that those numbers were also about the same as past periods.

The last such violation occurred Sunday at 14:30, when two Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighters (designated by NATO as the "Flanker") were detected moving eastbound over the Gulf of Finland; the planes did not have active transponder signals and did not identify themselves. Two German Eurofighter Typhoons, of the four currently based at Ämari as part of the Baltic Air Patrol, approached the Su-27s in 15 minutes and identified the planes. The aircraft departed the area without further incident on their way to Russia.

Many of the military aircraft taking off and landing at air bases near St. Petersburg fly in a route over the Baltic Sea that connects them to air bases in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland.

Several EU and NATO countries have complained to Russia over airspace violations in the past few weeks, including Finland, Sweden, the United States and Canada.

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb in a televised interview with public broadcaster YLE last month, called the repeated violations of its airspace a "bad message from Russia," and said it was clearly aimed at irritation.

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