VILNIUS - Over the past month, Lithuania has seen a stream of airspace violations, causing the national Air Force to seriously question its security tracking system. Although initially denying the report, Russian officials agreed on June 29 to launch an investigation into a national fighter jet that allegedly broke into Lithuania's air space earlier that day.
Meanwhile, Lithuania's Air Force is still investigating whether an earlier violation by a Belarusian military helicopter, which entered the Baltic state's territory twice on June 19, was a provocation.
As for the Russian fighter jet, Russian officers originally asserted that no plane had violated Lithuania's airspace.
The jet "did not come within three kilometers of the Lithuanian border during the exercise," a representative of the Baltic Fleet told Russia's news agency Interfax. "Pilots flying along the border are professionally instructed."
The Lithuanian Defense Ministry reported the violation at around noon. According to a press release, the plane entered Lithuanian airspace from Russia's Kaliningrad region near Pagegiai and kept flying for three kilometers. Judging from the speed of the aircraft, it was a fighter plane.
Acting Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas told the Baltic News Service that he expected an explanation from Russia.
"I hope the Russian side will explain why this occurred, as it is a violation of our agreements, not to mention our neighborly coexistence. It certainly could have been a mistake. I am not ruling out this possibility," the minister said, adding that he believed the Russian side would provide an explanation and diplomatic misunderstandings would be avoided. "If not, we can only be sorry."
As for the pending investigation into the Belarusian helicopter that illegally crossed Lithuania's border on June 19, no official conclusions have been made.
According to official reports, the Belarusian helicopter flew some three kilometers into Lithuania, maneuvered for more than 10 minutes and flew back to Belarus. About 20 minutes later, the Belarusian aircraft returned, entering approximately 100 meters into Lithuanian territory.
The incident occurred during a joint Belarusian-Russian exercise Joint Shield 2006.
There has been growing concern recently over Lithuania's faulty military radars, which have failed several times now to register unlawful air crossings at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.
Earlier this spring, Tadas Blazevicius, an amateur pilot from Kaunas, entered Belarus' airspace in his private airplane. Lithuania's military radars missed the violation, which was recorded by the Belarusian military.
Air Force radars also failed to record a Russian Su-27 fighter, which entered the Baltic state's air space last year and subsequently crashed. Following the catastrophe, there were open discussions on the necessity to modernize Lithuania's air space control equipment.
Some 18 million litas (5.2 million euros) were allocated from the defense budget this year for the purchase of new radar. o