NATO Jets Intercept Russia Military Plane Over Baltics

Two Dutch F-16 fighter jets on a NATO mission intercepted a Russian aircraft in the Baltics after it approached Estonian and Lithuanian airspace.

The F-16s intercepted an Ilyushin transport plane that hadn’t announced a flight plan yesterday near the two countries and escorted it out of the area, the Dutch Defense Ministry said on its website. The plane flew in the direction of the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, the ministry said.

Increased Russian aerial activity coincides with rising tension pitting Russia against the U.S. and the European Union over Ukraine. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization detected and tracked Russian military aircraft including fighter jets, long-range bombers and tankers over the Baltic region, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean for three days in late October.

“Increased activity of Russian military aircraft by the Baltic borders is raising concerns,” Lithuania’s defense ministry said by e-mail today, adding that interceptions are a “standard procedure.”

NATO says interceptions rose to 100 since the start of the year, three times the total for 2013. The alliance pledged in September to bolster the defenses of frontline states in eastern Europe in response to what it said was Russian action in Ukraine.

Repeated Incidents

While most interceptions don’t involve airspace incursions, Latvia’s northern neighbor Estonia and non-aligned Finland have reported repeated incidents this year where Russian aircraft violated their airspace. Sweden staged its biggest naval mobilization since the Cold War earlier this month in a week-long hunt for a suspected foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago.

Russia’s increased military activity in the Baltic region is aimed at undermining security and testing the preparedness of the country and its NATO allies, Lithuanian Chief of Defense, Major General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, said on Facebook Nov. 11. Russia has a record of increasing the activity of warplanes and ships when Baltic states hold large military exercises, he said.

Lithuania is currently hosting the Iron Sword military exercise with 2,500 soldiers from nine NATO countries.

Its northern neighbor Latvia’s defense forces today spotted Russian navy’s Zhigulevsk GS-19 vessel at nine nautical miles from its territorial waters, the country’s army said on its Twitter page.

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