TALLINN - The fourth violation of Estonia's airspace by a Russian plane during the last 11 months took place at the beginning of August, though as with all previous incidents registered by the Estonian defense forces, the incident was refuted by Russia.
The latest violation was registered on Aug. 2 when an AN-30 military plane entered Estonian airspace near the Vaindloo Island in the northeastern section of the country's maritime border.
According to the defense force headquarters, the Russian plane had penetrated 1.7 nautical miles of airspace and spent two minutes there on its way from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad at an altitude of 6,100 meters.
In accordance with the Treaty on Open Skies, Russia had informed Estonia about the flight, but the latter had not yet issued a permit to enter its airspace.
A member of the Estonian defense forces explained that information from the Russian side came on July 29 while the flight took place on Aug. 2. According to international regulations, information about a planned flight through foreign airspace must come at least seven days prior to the flight.
The AN-30 model is primarily used for observation and taking photos.
International treaties also oblige international observers to be present on such flights in order to ensure no pictures are taken while over foreign territory.
Furthermore, the Estonian radar team that spotted the plane also noticed that its transponder, the device that transfers information about the plane, was turned on.
Lieutenant Colonel Serkki Niitsoo, the acting commander of the Estonian air force, said in a press conference on Aug. 9 that although all the airspace violations were documented, the Russian side still denies that there were any.
He also said that information regarding the flight sent by the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, other than being tardy, could not be considered a properly formed diplomatic request to enter foreign airspace.
Estonia's airspace is monitored by a radar installation system near Lake Peipus and is secured by NATO fighter jets based in Lithuania. As Estonia's airspace is now NATO airspace, information about violations is passed to a NATO command center in Germany.
Because the plane was identified and the violation period was short, there was no need for the Lithuania-based fighters to take off, according to Niitsoo. He added that since international observers, who had to secure the non-reconnaissance character of the flight, were reportedly on board, the violation must have been the pilot's mistake.
Other experts believe that instead of making turns where the Estonian airspace curves, Russian pilots sometimes take a shortcut.
Although the Foreign Affairs Ministry passed an inquiry to the Russian Embassy after the incident, the Russian Air Force declared earlier this week that the An-30 plane did not violate Estonian air space.
The ministry's press office said it hasn't planned further actions in connection with the incident.
All four incidents registered during the last 11 months by the Estonian radar surveillance unit were refuted by Russia, including the Russian fighter jet Su-24 when it cut through Estonian airspace in the Lake Peipus region in October 2003.
The longest violation lasted for about 20 minutes on Oct. 18 last year when two Su-27 fighters flew through Estonian air.
So far this year only Russian transport planes have illegally entered Estonian airspace. One case was registered in March and the last one on Aug. 2.
Meanwhile, General Burwell B. Bell, commander of NATO's land forces who was in Estonia on Aug. 10, gave a high opinion of the country's defense forces commanders.
"During the visit I met with professional leaders, all of them devoted to strengthening the Estonian defense forces, leaders who know the strong and weak sides of their units and with a clear idea of the development trends," the defense forces headquarters' information service reported the four-star general as saying during his visit at the Peace Operations Center in Paldiski. "
It is good to see dedicated leaders who take their work seriously," Bell said.