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Kirkilas worried about Russian maneuvers

  • 2005-09-23
  • By The Baltic Times
VILNIUS 's Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas has said that the crash of the Russian jet fighter in Lithuania was most likely an accident.

"Based on the latest information, today I can declare with responsibility that the provocation version can almost certainly be discarded. Today we, the commission, do not have any facts to prove it," Kirkilas told journalists on Friday.

He said the crash was most likely not a willful violation of the country's airspace.

Still, the minister stressed that many tough questions needed to be answered by his Russian colleagues.

"We can see the maneuvers of Russian planes armed with missiles next to the border of Lithuania and the European Union, as well as NATO's border. These are not policing forces tasked to safeguard the airspace. Whom are they threatening? The strategic partnership between the European Union and Russia? The NATO-Russia council? The visa-free travel regime with the European Union that the Russian political authorities are so eager to have? What are they protecting? Ethnic minorities in Estonia and Latvia? The D-6 oilfield at the Baltic Sea?"

He added rhetorically, "Or is this just a relapse of the cold war, the unwillingness and inability to live up to reality?"

Kirkilas presented the report after he and Armed Forces Commander Major General Valdas Tutkus met with the pilot of the crashed Su-27, Valery Troyanov, and the latter's wife.

"I know that as soon as it is possible under Lithuania's laws and international conventions, they will return to their homeland," Kirkilas said.

The planed crashed on Sept. 15 in a region that borders with the Kaliningrad exclave some 50 kilometers from Kaunas. The pilot ejected safely and landed in the neighboring district.

The plane, which had veered off course while flying from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad, had been armed with four air-to-air missiles.

Two commissions have been set up to investigate the incident, which most likely occurred as a result of a faulty navigational system and a lack of fuel.

The Russia's Defense Ministry has apologized to Lithuania for the incident.