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Aviation

Swiss fighter jets fly alongside Russian state aircraft in 'routine check'

Moscow has complained after two Swiss fighter jets flew alongside a Russian government plane in Swiss airspace in what Bern said was a 'routine check.' On board were Russian officials and journalists bound for Peru.

The Swiss military responded Saturday that the encounter, which happened on Friday, was one of up to 400 such checks conducted yearly within the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

"[We] have expressed surprise and asked for explanations from Switzerland," Russia's embassy in Switzerland tweeted on Saturday.

The Swiss Defense Ministry said two of its FA18 jets had flown alongside the Russian Illushin II-96 aircraft (pictured above) over Swiss territory for seven minutes on Friday afternoon.

Photographs from the Illushin showing the Swiss jets circulated Saturday.

On board Russia's official airliner was a Russian delegation on its way to Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Russian President Vladimir Putin was on a different aircraft.

'Identification check'

Swiss military spokesman Daniel Reist said the purpose of the escort was "to check the identification of the plane concerned."

It was a procedure "provided for in the rules" of the ICAO, Reist said.

The incident came as tensions are high between Russia and the West over Russia's actions on Crimea and its airstrikes in Syria.

Similar incident last year

In October last year, a Swiss FA18 made an airborne check of a Russian transport plane carrying a parliamentary delegation to Geneva. Bern subsequently apologized but said Russian authorities had been notified in advance.

At that time, the Russian foreign ministry said it was "unconvinced" by the official Swiss explanation.

ipj/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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