NATO Fighters Escorted Russian Aircraft That Violated Airspace 6 Times in a Week

July 2, 2019 Updated: July 2, 2019

NATO fighter jets scrambled six times last week to escort Russian military aircraft that violated Lithuanian airspace, according to the main news agency for the Baltic region.

The Baltic News Service (BNS) says NATO jets identified and escorted the Russian planes to international airspace over the Baltic Sea.

According to media reports, NATO fighters accompanied the Russian Su-24 and Su-35 fighter jets, the Il-20 reconnaissance plane, and the An-24 and An-26 aircraft, which were flying between Russia’s mainland and the Kaliningrad region.

Citing Lithuania’s Defense Ministry, BNS reported on July 1 that some of the Russian aircraft flew with their transponders disabled, without announcing flight plans or communicating with the regional air traffic control center.

Others meanwhile flew with their transponders enabled and communicated effectively.

Lithuania, which borders Kaliningrad, has deep concerns about Moscow’s military might in the area.

NATO fighter jets are currently keeping watch in Lithuania and Estonia, reported Russian outlet Interfax.

Baltic States Seek Help from US

In April, the leaders of the Baltic nations Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania sought further military assistance from the United States against Russian expansionism.

In a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on April 3, President Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia, President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, and President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, discussed security matters and ways to enhance cooperation in defense and energy.

There have long been concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in the Baltic region, especially since Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. They fear that Moscow could use military force against the Baltic states.

The Baltic countries have been pressing the U.S. and NATO to take additional security measures in the region to deter any potential aggression from Russia, and its leaders have called for a permanent U.S. military presence in the region.

Following the meeting, Trump announced plans “to provide nearly $100 million for procurement of large-caliber ammunition and over $70 million in training and equipping programs” to boost the capacity of the Baltic countries’ military.

“Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” said Trump, in response to a question in a press conference with the Baltic leaders, as to whether he saw Putin as an enemy or not.

“I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin, and if I did, that would be a great thing. And there’s also a great possibility that that won’t happen. Who knows?”

Trump and the Baltic leaders have also agreed to enhance cooperation in energy security and independence. The countries will collaborate to “diversify energy sources, supplies, and routes throughout the Baltic region, including expanding exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas,” said Trump.

In the past, too much dependence on Russian natural gas allowed Moscow to charge high prices to the Baltic nations and made the region vulnerable to Russian influence.

The Baltic countries have moved to increase their independence from Russian gas in recent years. Lithuania began importing liquefied natural gas from the United States in 2017.

This year, the Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their independence following World War I. The independence was short lived, as the Soviet Union occupied and annexed the region during World War II.

Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were under Soviet rule during the Cold War until they regained their independence in 1991. They joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Russia Deployed Nuclear-Capable Missiles

Last February, Russia deployed advanced nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, reported the RIA news agency, citing a senior lawmaker.

The country said previously deployed Iskander missiles to the region were temporary and a response to the United States building up its forces in the Baltic region, Reuters reported.

Emel Akan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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