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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

NATO jets intercept Russian plane amid tensions with US drones

British and German warplanes on Tuesday intercepted an unresponsive Russian plane flying near NATO airspace, the same day the United States accused Russian warplanes of deliberately shooting down an American drone over the Black Sea.

The BBC reported that two Typhoon fighter jets – one from Britain’s 140 Expeditionary Air Wing and the other from Germany’s 71 Tactical Air Wing Richthofen – tried to intercept a Russian Il-78 Midas refueling plane that was flying between St Petersburg and the US exclave Kaliningrad.

Russian planes routinely fly along the edges of NATO airspace, as do NATO planes around Russian borders. Such flights may be intended for reconnaissance, testing response times, or as part of routine transits between bases. According to the BBC, the Russian refueling plane was unable to communicate with air traffic control in Estonia.

The interception marked the first time that British and German air forces acted together as part of their NATO air policing mission in the region.

“Following successful visual identification and escort, the two Typhoons were again tasked with intercepting an AN148 aircraft also passing through Estonian airspace,” Britain’s MoD said in a statement. “However, the interception is a routine NATO mission for the Typhoons, providing reassurance that Britain and Germany, along with other NATO allies, stand by their Estonian ally at this time of tension.”

There is nothing to suggest that Tuesday’s interception near Estonian airspace is linked to the incident over the Black Sea that saw a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone fly after a reported collision with intercepting Russian Su-27 – was destroyed by fighter planes.

NATO allies take turns operating the Baltic Police Mission’s four-month operations from air bases in Lithuania and Estonia. Since Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia joined the bloc in 2004, the alliance has been conducting regional air policing duties, with a second mission established after Russia’s 2014 conquest of Crimea.

“A high proportion of the Russian Federation Air Force’s flight activity is due to the geographic location of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad; Aircraft of the Russian Federation Air Force regularly fly from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad and vice versa,” the allied air forces said in a statement on the NATO Command website.

“Often they approach or fly near NATO airspace without using transponders, communicating with air traffic control, or having filed a flight plan.”

Mark Voyger, a former special adviser on Russian and Eurasian affairs to then-US Army Europe commander Gen. Ben Hodges, said news week that Russian “probing” activities are common around NATO’s northern European airspace, including near Estonia, which Moscow regards as “absolutely hostile to its own interests.”

Voyger, now a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for European Analysis and a professor at the American University of Kyiv, said Moscow may want to “expand operational space” by aligning itself with foreign donors to Ukraine in other areas, including the Baltic region , counter. the Black Sea and Moldova.

“Everywhere they fail on the battlefield, in a tactical sense they try to compensate as much as possible elsewhere,” explained Voyger, noting Russia’s slow and not yet overwhelming spring offensive, which continues with heavy casualties on the southern and eastern fronts.

news week emailed the Estonian and Russian defense ministries for comment.

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