A NATO F-16 fighter on Wednesday approached Russian defense minister Sergei Choigou’s plane over the Baltic Sea, said Russian reporters on board.
According to journalists from the main Russian news agencies, some NATO planes tried to escort the minister’s plane, and one of them attempted to approach it, but the Su- 27 which was escorting the minister’s plane forced it to leave.
“The Su-27 showed (to the plane of) NATO that it was armed. After that, the NATO F-16 went away,” says Interfax, present aboard the ministerial craft.
Interviewed by AFP, the Ministry of Defense did not respond immediately.
NATO, for its part, said it was a “standard procedure”.
“In general, when NATO aviation intercepts an airplane, it identifies it visually, always maintaining a safe distance. Once (identification) is completed, NATO planes will move away” , Said NATO spokesman Matthias Eichenlaub, responding to an AFP question on the incident.
The Alliance, assuring that its pilots had acted “safely”, did not confirm the presence of Sergei Choigou aboard the plane.
Defense Minister Choïgou was traveling to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave near the Baltic Sea, to take part in a meeting of the Ministry of Defense on “the formation of military units in the western district”, according to army spokesman , Igor Konachenkov, quoted by the agency TASS.
“The situation on the western borders of Russia will only get worse. This is related to the increase in military activities of NATO countries in Eastern Europe,” said Choïgou, according to RIA Novosti.
The meeting took place two days after NATO’s military exercises concentrated on the so-called Suwalki crossing (north-eastern Poland), a piece of land on the Polish-Lithuanian border near Kaliningrad.
This strongly militarized enclave, where Russia has several military bases and a naval base, is often the scene of incidents between NATO aircraft and Russian aviation, which accuse each other of provocations.
On Monday, a Russian fighter Su-27 identified two “American spy planes”, one of which carried out “provocative” maneuvers, said in a statement the Russian Defense Ministry.
NATO said on its side to have followed “last week a large and unusual number of Russian military aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea”, according to its spokesman. Among them, “strategic bombers, fighter planes, reconnaissance aircraft, transport planes,” he said.
The Atlantic Alliance is deploying four multinational battalions in Poland and the Baltic states, fearing a hypothetical Russian attack. For Moscow, the strengthening of NATO forces in this region reflects a will to encircle Russia.