VILNIUS, Sept 11 (LETA–BNS) – NATO fighter-jets serving in the air-policing mission of the Baltic states were last week scrambled three times from Lithuania to intercept Russian warplanes flying above the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on Monday.
At the end of the week, air-policing jets identified and accompanied two Russian fighter-jets Su-27 flying in the international airspace. The NATO jets were scrambled two more times on Friday over An-12 transport airplane.
All four Russian aircraft had their onboard transponders off.
The NATO air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.
In response to the upcoming Russian-Belarusian exercise Zapad 2017, it was reinforced with additional US fighter-jets at the end of August.
Experts from the United Kingdom and Norway will conduct an observation flight over Russia under the Open Skies Treaty on August 24-28, Russia’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center head said Monday.
The plane and the equipment onboard have passed international certification, eliminating the use of technology not covered by the treaty. Russian experts will control the adherence to the treaty during the flight.
“During the August 24-28 period, a mission from Norway and the United Kingdom will conduct an observation flight over the Russian territory on a Romanian AN-30 [NATO reporting name Clank] observation plane within the framework of the Open Skies Treaty,” Sergei Ryzhkov told reporters.
The 34-nation Treaty on Open Skies was signed in 1992 in Finland and currently applies most NATO member states, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, and Sweden. The treaty establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territory of its participants with the aim of boosting transparency of military activities.
NATO jets intercepted three Russian military aircraft near Estonian airspace Tuesday, an alliance spokesman told CNN.
“Two Spanish F-18 jets assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled from Estonia’s Amari Air Base on Tuesday morning to intercept unidentified non-NATO military aircraft near Estonian airspace,” acting NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement.
He added that Finnish jets also scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft which he identified as two MiG-31 fighter jets and an AN-26 transport plane.
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission involves allied aircraft securing the airspace of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The incident between NATO and Russian military aircraft comes less than 24 hours after US Vice President Mike Pence visited Estonia where he reaffirmed America’s commitment to NATO’s collective defense clause in the face of Russian aggression.
“No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east,” Pence said an appearance with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies,” he added.
The incident also saw the Spanish aircraft “accidentally” entering Finnish airspace.
“In handing over the intercept to the Finnish jets, the Spanish jets accidentally entered Finnish airspace. NATO’s Air Command has explained the incident to the Finnish Air Operations Centre to improve future coordination,” White said.
Finland, which is not a member of NATO, appeared to confirm the incident Tuesday with its ministry of defense issuing a statement saying the two Spanish jets were “suspected of having violated Finland’s airspace on Tuesday morning.”
“We have seen an increase in air activity in the Baltic region, but with few exceptions, the vast majority of the intercepts are conducted in a safe and responsible manner by all parties,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters last month following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.
He also referred to a Finish Initiative which recently convened a working group of representatives from Russia, NATO, Sweden and Finland to discuss the issues involving the congested Baltic airspace.
“They are working in a good way,” Stoltenberg said.
A group of Chinese Navy warships led by the missile destroyer Hefei has arrived in the port of Baltiysk in Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad Region for joint Russia-China drills dubbed the Joint Sea-2017, Baltic Fleet spokesman Roman Martov told TASS on Friday.
“The Chinese naval group includes the frigate Yuncheng and the supply vessel Luoma Lake, apart from the destroyer Hefei,” the spokesman said.
The Chinese sailors were received by representatives of the Command of the Russian Navy, the Baltic Fleet, China’s diplomatic corps and a guard of honor in the port of Baltiysk.
Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Navy Vice-Admiral Alexander Fedotenkov and Deputy Commander of the Chinese Navy Vice-Admiral Tian Zhong who are in charge of the drills noted that the maneuvers were not aimed against other countries.
The drills will be the first in the history of interaction of the Chinese Navy and the Russian Baltic Fleet and will aim to practice joint operations at sea, on the ground and in the air.
During the active phase of the drills that will be held on July 25-26 in the Baltic Sea, the sailors will practice anti-saboteur, antiaircraft and anti-ship defense. The warships’ crews will deliver fire against various surface and air targets and organize joint operations for rescuing a person falling overboard and providing aid to a ship in distress.
The Baltic Fleet’s corvettes Steregushchiy and Boiky, a rescue tug and shipborne Kamov Ka-27 multipurpose helicopters, Sukhoi Su-24 tactical frontline bombers and Antonov An-26 military and transport planes will represent the Russian Navy in the joint drills.
Russia will be conducting an Open Skies observation flight in Finland 26 – 28 June 2017. The mission will be flown using Russia’s certificated Open Skies observation aircraft, the Antonov An-30. The mission conforms to the Open Skies Treaty.
The Antonov An-30 will carry 17 crew and observers, including three Finnish Defence Force Personnel. The Finnish mission leader for the observation flight is Lieutenant Commander Kari Ahrnberg of the Defence Command Finland.
Open Skies is a treaty that aims to promote transparency and security in Europe. The treaty allows the signatories to conduct observation flights and take aerial photographs over the territories of its member states when these have been planned and announced beforehand. Finland signed the agreement in February 2003.
The NATO alliance intercepted 32 Russian military aircraft nearing allied airspace above the Baltic Sea last week, Lithuania’s Ministry of Defence announced on Monday.
Between June 12 and 18, allied jets scrambled nine times to identify and escort multiple Russian aircraft, including fighter and bomber jets, at a time of high military traffic in Baltic skies because of the alliance’s annual drills.
The intercepts were prompted by Russian military flights to and from the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and involved a varied range of warplanes, Lithuania’s Defence Ministry said in a statement. The number of annual intercepts of Russian aircraft above the Baltic skyrocketed following the collapse of relations between Moscow and the West over events in Ukraine in 2014. Scrambles have remained high since.
Multiple models of Russia’s Ilyushin, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Antonov planes made the forays, triggering a response from the Baltic Air Policing mission. Among the intercepts were multiple Su-27 and Su-24 MR fighter jets and Su-34 fighter bomber jets.
Units of all three models formed part of Russia’s deployment to Syria since its military intervention in 2015.
One Russian air force group over the Baltic attracted attention last week when a group consisting of Ilyushin Il-22, Sukhoi Su-24, Sukhoi Su-27, Sukhoi Su-34 and supersonic Tupolev Tu-160 long-range bombers prompted three European air forces to escort them through different segments of their trip, fearing they would violate national airspace. The scrambles involved non-aligned states Finland and Sweden as well as NATO ally Denmark.
The U.S. Army in Europe holds its annual series of defense drills with local allies in the Baltic region every summer. The exercises, called Saber Strike, last for almost the entire duration of June, while Russia is planning its own set of drills in the region with nearby ally Belarus in September.
Lithuania has complained that Russia’s propensity to announce a relatively small number of troops will take part in such a drill, before deciding to effectively increase its size tenfold closer to the date is evidence that the drill is a simulated attack on NATO.