Estonia and Finland have accused Russia of again violating their airspace. Finland and the US have signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact.
Estonia has delivered a formal protest to the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, the Estonian military said on Friday. It accused Russian forces of violating its airspace for the fifth time this year.
A Su-27 fighter aircraft entered Estonian airspace without permission or identification and remained near the Baltic island of Vaindloo for less than a minute, the Estonian army said.
According to an Estonian radio report, Russia was planning to install an Iskander-M ballistic missile system, with a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles), in the Russian province of Kaliningrad, which lies on the Baltic coast between Poland and Lithuania. The report claimed that the short-range missile system was being delivered from St Petersburg in a civilian transport ship with substantial air escort.
Finland and US pact
Finland has expressed increasing concern over Russia's activities in the Baltic Sea region. Helsinki authorities suspect that Russian SU-27 fighter jets violated the country's airspace on two separate occasions in the Gulf of Finland on Thursday.
On Friday, US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work and Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact pledging closer military collaboration. Finland's close neighbor Sweden made a similar kind of military pact with the US in June. Neither Sweden nor Finland are members of NATO, but they both signed similar defense cooperation agreements with the UK earlier this year.
"The US presence in and around the Baltic Sea undergirds stability in the region, and creates opportunities to increase defense cooperation between our countries," the text stated.
Moscow denied the accusations, saying the planes flew over international waters "in strict compliance with the international regulations."
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said it was "serious" that two such incidents took place on the same day. He urged a thorough investigation.
US Baltic concerns
The US has expressed concern over Russian activities on the Baltic Sea, and Sweden, Estonia and Latvia have also reported air violations. Russia's military has also been reported to be active near US aircraft and ships in the region.
"Unfortunately, these (Russian air intrusions) are becoming a norm rather than an exception," Work told a news conference after a regular, scheduled meeting with Nordic and Baltic defense officials. "It's hard for me to fathom that Russia would consider Finland a threat in any way, and activities like these are hard to understand."
Helsinki and Washington have cooperated closely via joint military air, land and sea drills but the non-legally binding pact seeks to deepen the ties through information exchange and joint research and development in areas such as cyber defense and training.
The agreement also covers cooperation in ship building, nuclear defense and developing technologies for the Arctic.
jm/bw (dpa, AP)