A NATO F-18 Hornet multirole fighter approached Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s plane as it was flying over neutral waters in the Baltic Sea, but was chased off by one of two Su-27 fighters accompanying Shoigu’s aircraft, the Russian Defence Ministry has reported.
Shoigu was reportedly flying en route to Moscow from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is surrounded from the south, east and northeast by NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
Footage taken from inside the defence minister’s plane showed the Spanish Air Force F-18 flying alongside the aircraft, before pulling a hard left banking maneuver as a Su-27 approached from under the airliner. The F-18 is then seen ascending sharply, pulling away from both planes.
Tweet reads: “NATO F-18 tried to approach Sergei Shoigu’s plane in the Baltic Sea. Su-27 pilots pushed the fighter away, preventing it from approaching close to the airliner.”
Shoigu visited Kaliningrad to observe part of the ongoing Seaborne Assault games, part of the broader Army Games-2019 competition, featuring participants from over two dozen countries.
NATO Says It Scrambled Jet to ‘Identify’ Shoigu’s Plane
Later in the day, NATO confirmed that an alliance warplane had been scrambled to intercept a Russian plane over the Baltic Sea, saying the intercept was carried out “to identify” the aircraft, and that it did not know who was onboard. The alliance’s press service said its aircraft returned to base after successfully identifying the plane.
“Jets from NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled to identify the (Russian) aircraft which flew close to Allied airspace. Once the identification of the aircraft had taken place, the NATO jets returned to base. NATO has no information as to who was on board,” the alliance said in a statement.
Tuesday’s incident wasn’t the first time NATO aircraft have approached Shoigu’s plane in the Baltic. A similar incident took place in June 2017, when a NATO F-16 was nudged away from the plane by a Su-27 escort.
The US and its allies have substantially increased flights along Russia’s maritime and land borders in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, and near Russian bases in Syria. In 2018, the Defence Ministry reported observing some 3,000 foreign military aircraft, including about 1,000 reconnaisance planes and drones, flying near the border.
Some of these incidents prompted air defence forces to scramble jets. Russia has repeatedly condemned the NATO military buildup near its borders, warning that these actions increase the risk of escalation into a full-blown military conflict.