A NATO fighter jet has flown up to a plane carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over the Baltic Sea, Russian news agencies reported. It's the third such incident in as many days.
A Russian Su-27 escort jet had to intervene to ward off the approaching F-16 NATO plane, reports from Russia's Interfax and TASS news agencies said Wednesday.
A video of the encounter was later broadcast on a TV channel run by the Russian Defense Ministry. It shows an F-16 flying alongside the Minister Shoigu's plane at a short distance before a Russian fighter jet is seen inserting itself between the two aircraft. The escort plane demonstrated it was armed by tilting its wings to show the missiles it was carrying, after which the F-16 flew off.
NATO confirmed that it had tracked "three Russian aircraft, including two fighter jets" over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday. In a statement, the alliance said that the Russian aircraft did not respond to air traffic control or requests to identify themselves.
"NATO has no information as to who was on board," the statement said, adding that the crew's actions were "routine" to identify the plane while "maintaining a safe distance at all times" and then breaking away.
Russia concerned about military buildup
Defense Minister Shoigu had been on his way to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to meet with defense officials there. At the meeting, he warned that "the situation near Russia's western borders is tending to get worse," the ministry said on its website. "This is tied with the upsurge of military activity of NATO countries in Eastern Europe."
Shoigu voiced concerns about the alliance's military drills currently underway in the Baltics, saying they reflected NATO's "anti-Russian course."
NATO has bolstered its military presence in the Baltic countries and Poland in recent months in a bid to address anxieties in the region about a more assertive Russia.
Third incident in a week
Wednesday's plane incident came a day after the US military said a Russian fighter conducted an "unsafe" intercept of a US reconnaissance plane over the Baltic. Russia's defense ministry, however, said its jet only reacted after the American plane made a "provocative turn" towards it.
In yet another instance, Sweden on Wednesday said it had called in Russia's ambassador for talks after a Russian fighter buzzed a Swedish reconnaissance jet over the Baltic on Monday.
"The Russian behaviour is unacceptable" and had increased the risk of a serious incident, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told the TT news agency.
nm/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)