Russian planes straying into foreign airspace

Tänavu 18. juunil saatis Briti hävitaja kaht Ven­e hävitajat Su-27 Balti riikide piiri lähedal.

PHOTO: Reuters/ScanPix

Five times this year, warplanes from Russian Federation have entered airspace of Estonia. 

During this past week, Russia’s military aircraft have repeatedly caused intense incidents for US, Canadian, Swedish and Latvian air forces – both by flying dangerously close to the border, and by venturing in. 

As stated by Finnish media on Sunday, Russian military planes entered the airspace of Estonia and Latvia. Even so, Defence Forces’ headquarters say the information regarding Estonia’s air boundary being violated is not correct. Also, as stated by Latvian defence ministry’s press secretary, Russian planes have not entered into their airspace this year, having however ventured dangerously close to it on about 60 occasions.

The past nine months’ incidents near Latvian border involving Russian planes make up a third of similar occasions of the past decade.

Last week, on two occasions Russian fighters and bombers flying close to Alaska forced US and Canadian planes to take off. At the same time, two Russian fighters invaded Swedish airspace and forced the Swedes to react. As the Swedish fighters took off, the Russians hastily left.

«Probably, these border violations and close flights are to test our reaction. With Estonia, most of the cases amount to violation of flight rules, not border violations. Violations of flight rules are, for instance, flying in neutral space with transponders not switched on, or neglecting to answer questions by air traffic control service,» said Air Force information specialist Alar Laats.

«This may be a test not only to see how fast the air force is able to react, but what’s the attitude of governments. Will they sweep it under the carpet, or will they raise their voices. And: if they raise their voices, will their neighbours do likewise? On the other hand, it is intimidating the neighbours. This breeds fear in people, which may actually be the aim of Russia.»

This year, it is five times that Russian planes have crossed Estonia’s border. To compare: in 2006–2013, this happened on seven occasions.  

«All this year’s border violations have occurred at Vaindloo Island. I feel there may be two reasons to it. Firstly – human carelessness or errors. Vaindloo Island protrudes slightly from the rest of Estonia’s territorial airspace. When they come from Kaliningrad on their way to St Petersburg, or the other way round, they may be tempted to cut the corner,» said Mr Laats.

«When it comes to air traffic control, the Vaindloo Island area is not governed by Tallinn, as does the rest of Estonian territory, but by St Petersburg controllers. Why so, I cannot really say. Probably, the frequency of flights between St Petersburg and Kaliningrad has intensified a lot, lately. With more traffic, there’ll also be more violations of the rules.»

The other reason why Russian planes keep violating Estonian air boundary may be provocation, says Mr Laats. «As far as I know, we have less (border violations – T. R.) than in Latvia and Finland. Why do we have less? But then we may say: in Finland, they have snatched no security police officers from the border.»

Despite the behaviour of Russian warplanes, Mr Laats things we don’t need to fear a war. «I am positive that NATO Article 5 works,» he said. «Both to flight rules and border violations, Estonian and NATO air forces have adequately reacted.»

This year’s Estonian air boundary violations

•    On May 21st at 5.49 pm, a Russian intelligence aircraft IL-20/22 entered Estonian airspace in Vaindloo Island neighbourhood to about 1.5 nautical miles, staying here for less than a minute. According to Air Navigation Service, this was caused by a thunderstorm. Flight plan and radio communication were in place.

•    On June 11th at 10.10 pm, a Russian armed forces’ transport plane IL-76 entered Estonian airspace in Vaindloo Island neighbourhood to about 1.5 nautical miles, staying here for less than a minute. Flight plan and radio communication were in place.

•    On June 12th at 0.52 am, a Russian armed forces’ transport plane IL-76 entered Estonian airspace in Vaindloo Island neighbourhood to about 1.5 nautical miles, staying here for less than a minute. Flight plan and radio communication were in place.

•    On June 25th at 10.32 am, a Russian armed forces’ transport plane IL-76 entered Estonian airspace in Vaindloo Island neighbourhood to about 1.5 nautical miles, staying here for less than a minute.

•    On August 13th at 9.23 pm, a Russian Federation armed forces’ plane Tu-134 entered, without permission, Estonian airspace in Vaindloo Island area, to less than one nautical mile, and stayed here for less than a minute. The plane had radio communication with Estonia’s air traffic control centre.

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