NATO fighter jets were scrambled eight times last week, identifying and escorting an assortment of Russian Federation military aircraft, new and old, in the process, with Russian activity particularly frenetic on June 15-17. In one case, two Russian jets violated Lithuanian, and therefore European Union and NATO, airspace.
NATO Baltic Air Policing duties are based at Ämari, west of Tallinn, and Šiauliai in Lithuania, with planes from the latter engaged in last week's flights.
Generally speaking the Russian aircraft fly in international airspace over the Baltic, but often come close to Baltic airspace as they "cut the corner" in flights to and from the Kaliningrad exclave, a highly militarized zone which borders with Lithuania.
In most cases the Russian flights fail to meet all or any of the triple requirements of using a transponder squawk-box on a functioning frequency, maintaining radio contact with regional air traffic control and filing pre-flight plans.
The details of last week's flights, as released by the Lithuanian defense ministry, are as follows:
- June 15: A Beriev A-50 reconnaissance plane, two Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft and two Sukhoi Su-27 fighters making the return trip to Kaliningrad. Two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers, two Sukhoi Su-35 fighters (a derivative of the SU-27) and two SU-27s made a flight later that day, while two SU-35s necessitated a further NATO scramble.
- June 16: An A-50 and then an Antonov An-30 aerial cartography plan, plus an Antonov An-12 transport plane, as well as two of each of SU-24s, SU-27s and SU-35s along with one SU-34 were intercepted. Lithuania's foreign ministry summonsed a representative of the Russian embassy and handed a formal diplomatic note on the same day, in protest over one of the June 15 flights which, the note said, actually made an incursion into Lithuania's airspace, involving two jets. The planes flew for around a minute in Lithuanian, and therefore EU, airspace, covering around 2 km in that time, BNS reports.
- June 17: Increased activity in the vicinity of Kaliningrad led to stepped-up NATO patrols.
- June 18: An Ilyushin Il-22 bomber and later an Antonov An-26 transport plane were escorted.
Editor: Andrew Whyte