VILNIUS – NATO's fighter jets policing Baltic airspace were last week scrambled 15 times to identify and escort Russian aircraft flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea in violation of flight rules, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on Monday.
This is the largest weekly number of interceptions of Russian aircraft in a year, it said, linking the increased activity to large-scale NATO exercises underway in the region.
"Last week's recorded number of NATO aircraft take-offs and of escorted Russian Federation aircraft is the highest in the past year," the ministry said in a comment to BNS.
"This is linked to a series of large-scale air, land and sea exercises that the Baltic states are currently conducting both at national level and jointly with their NATO allies," it said.
Russia is collecting information on the capabilities involved in BALTOPS 2023, a major multinational exercise running in the Baltic Sea on June 9-14, and conducting its own military drills, according to the ministry.
Last Monday, NATO's air-policing jets took off twice to identify an IL-20 attack aircraft on its way from Russia's Kaliningrad region and back, and intercepted two SU-27 fighters escorting the Russian plane.
On Tuesday, the Alliance's fighters were scrambled over a SU-24MR reconnaissance aircraft on its way from the exclave to mainland Russia and a TU-134 flying the same route.
An IL-20 and an AN-26, both flying in international space from Kaliningrad and back, and AN-30 and IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft and two SU-30 fighter jets flying to and from the exclave were intercepted on Wednesday.
On Thursday, NATO's air-policing jets were scrambled over an AN-30, two SU-30 fighters, two Il-20s and a SU-27 on their way from Kaliningrad and back.
On Friday, the Alliance's aircraft took off to identify an AN-72 transport plane flying from mainland Russia and back, and an AN-12 transport plane on its way to Kaliningrad, and six fighter jets – two SU-30s, two SU-24s and two SU-27s – flying to and from Kaliningrad.
An IL-20, two SU-30SMs and two SU-27s flying from and to Kaliningrad, and two TUM3 strategic bombers and two SU-30s flying from mainland Russia and back were intercepted on Saturday.
On Sunday, NATO's jets were scrambled over two SU-24Ms flying from and to Kaliningrad.
Most of the Russian aircraft had no pre-filed flight plans, and failed to use their onboard transponders and maintain radio communication with the Regional Traffic Control Center.
The NATO Baltic air policing mission is carried out from air bases in Lithuania and Estonia.