A civilian Russian cargo plane flying between Moscow and Leipzig, Germany, took a rather circuitous route through Finnish airspace Saturday evening, public broadcaster Yle reports, leading to the scrambling of Finnish air force jets in response and prompting speculation over the rationale behind the excursion.
As to possible explanations of the detour through non-NATO member Finland's airspace, one security expert told Yle that they. "Can't think of one. It was such an exceptional route," Yle's English-language portal reports.
"It could be a protest. Russia may have wanted to pull such a trick in order to raise some hairs on the other [Finnish] side," the expert went on, while another expert suggested the flight represented an intelligence-gathering mission, testing Finland's preparedness and the response of its air force jets, including where they flew from and/or returned to post-flight.
The expert – both experts who spoke to Yle wished to remain anonymous – said that the Finnish Air Force's (Ilmavoimat/Flygvapnet) McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet jets can fly below Russian radar when based in Russia itself, but a plane with radar capabilities in the air over Finland would be able to pick the jets up regardless of their altitude.
At the same time as a civilian plane with no visible antennae or sensors as found in reconnaissance aircraft – and the Finnish air force Hornets which were scrambled would likely have picked up any modifications along these lines – the scope for proper surveillance work would have been limited.
The flight is not wholly without precedent, Yle reports, while it may also be part of an effort to throw out a screen of cognitive dissonance for the western allies or western-aligned states, including non-NATO member Finland, when interpreted in the light of other activities inside Russia itself, on its border with Ukraine, in relation to Belarus, the recent deployment of personnel to Kazakhstan, reported drone sightings over Swedish nuclear power plants, reports of Russian landing craft int eh Baltic Sea, Russia's own flight restrictions etc.
The Finnish air force would not comment on the incident, Yle says.
The flight started at a little before 7.30 p.m. Finnish and Estonian time on Saturday, January 15 while its flight-path (see map above) described a northwesterly route which then cut west into Finnish territory, before turning southwest towards its intended destination, the German city of Leipzig.
While in Finnish airspace if passed over Tikkakoski, near Jyvaäskylä, home of air force HQ, and close to a military airport at Jämsä in the center of the country.
It's altitude in Finnish airspace was maintained at about 8,500 meters, or normal cruising height.
More details of the flight's route are here.
The plane involved is a Boeing 747-8HV(F) belonging to AirBridgeCargo Airlines, a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr Group, Russia's largest cargo carrier, Yle reports.
Volga-Dnepr Group's Leipzig office also would not respond to Yle's request for comment.
The original Yle News article is here.
Past incidents involving Russian flight incursions into Finland include one from during the Cold War, in 1984, when a Soviet-made cruise missile plunged into Lake Inari, in Finnish Lapland.
NATO jets based at Ämari and at Šiauliai, Lithuania, conduct flights virtually every week, mostly from the latter base, though most of the military flights they intercept are in international airspace. The Estonian island of Vaindloo sometimes sees actual incursions of Estonia's sovereign airspace, by Russian overflights.
Editor: Andrew Whyte