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2019.08.19 15:30

Russian drills force NATO to scramble jets in Baltics

BNS2019.08.19 15:30

NATO jets policing Baltic airspace were scrambled nine times last week to intercept Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, including Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu's plane and two escorting fighters. 

According to the Lithuanian Defence Ministry, NATO's air police mission last Tuesday intercepted two Russian Su-27 fighters that were escorting a Tu-214 military passenger aircraft. The planes flew from mainland Russia to the Kaliningrad exclave and then back.

Read more: Russian military plane enters Lithuanian airspace due to bad weather

Russian media have reported that one of the fighters escorting the military passenger plane, which was reportedly carrying Shoigu, forced NATO's F-18 jet away, almost cutting into its flight path. A NATO military official described it as "a potentially dangerous situation for both airplanes".

Another two Su-27 fighters flying to Kaliningrad and then back were intercepted later on Tuesday. The jets escorted a T-134 passenger plane.

A day earlier, NATO's aircraft intercepted two Su-27 fighters escorting an A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft.

Other scrambles were mostly to intercept military passenger aircraft and fighters. This followed 14 intercepts by NATO fighter-jets of Russian aircraft the previous week.

The Lithuanian Defense Ministry links the increased activity to summertime military exercises.

"The increased activity of Russian aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea is likely due to intensive training during the summer," the ministry told BNS.

"In recent weeks, the Ocean Shield 2019 combined exercise by the Russian armed forces, an exercise by the Kaliningrad land force, and preparations for the Centr 2019 and Shchit Soyuza 2019 large-scale drills have taken place in the Baltic Sea," it said.