Russian military jets have been crossing the paths of civilian planes near the Baltic states’ airspace, and in several instances have nearly caused collisions, Lithuania’s top diplomat said.
The Russian jets are flying with their transponders turned off or without precise flight plans, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Friday in an interview in Bratislava, Slovakia. Their presence has increased by as much as four times in the past several months, he said.
“There were some incidents that came very close to a disaster,” Linkevicius said. “Thank God nothing happened, but if it continues it’ll be a big problem.”
With the conflict in Ukraine having triggered its worst dispute with NATO and the European Union since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia has stepped up air and naval exercises in the Baltic Sea. They included 26 days of sea maneuvers in April, when a Russian military ship disrupted the laying of an undersea power cable between Lithuania and Sweden.
While Russian military jets rarely enter Lithuanian airspace, they operate in close proximity and put constant pressure on the former Soviet republic, which is now a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU.
Lithuania plans to increase its military budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2020 and has reintroduced conscription. It’s also welcoming NATO heavy military equipment on its territory.
When facing off against Russia, “the only valid argument is a military presence,” Linkevicius said. “Nothing else works.”
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