A Spanish F-18 fighter jet had a tense encounter with a Russian Su-27 over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, as seen in a video released by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The Spanish aircraft, which is deployed at the Lithuanian base of Siauliau as part of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, is seen tagging a plane that was reportedly carrying Russian Defense Minister Serguéi Shoigu.
The F-18 comes within close range, hovering just off the wing of the Russian plane, then moves away suddenly and is followed by one of two Su-27 escort jets.
The Russian aircraft were flying near Allied airspace without a flight plan or IFF identification
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Shoigu was aboard the plane, traveling to Moscow from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland.
The Russian news agency TASS reported that “Shoigu’s plane was on the way from Kaliningrad to Moscow with an escort of two Sukhoi-27 fighter jets of the Baltic Fleet on Tuesday. Over international waters of the Baltic Sea NATO’s F-18 tried to approach it but the Russian fighter jets forced it away.”
Spanish military sources said that the F-18 was sent to identify the aircraft, as it was flying near the Alliance’s airspace without a flight plan or IFF identification, which is used in military and civilian air traffic control.
This is not the first incident between Spanish and Russian aircraft, as the latter have repeatedly approached Baltic air space without identifying themselves.
The Spanish Defense Ministry declined to comment on the incident, saying the F-18 is participating in a NATO mission. A NATO spokeswoman said that “a Russian plane, escorted by at least one Russian combat aircraft, was tracked today [Tuesday] over the Baltic.” The spokesperson said that NATO’s air policing mission jets approached to identify the airplane, which was flying near Allied air space. Once identification was completed, the NATO jets returned to their base. “NATO has no information about who was on board,” said this source.
Since 2004, Spanish fighter jets have participated on six occasions in NATO air policing missions over the Baltic states, which lack their own combat aircraft.