Air exercises come amid growing number of intercepts between NATO and Russian military planes over the Baltic and Black Sea.
Russia has started tactical fighter jet exercises over the Baltic Sea with the goal of testing readiness to perform combat and other special operations, the country’s defence ministry has said, a day after Moscow said its jets had scrambled to intercept United Kingdom military planes over the Black Sea.
“The main goal of the exercise is to test the readiness of the flight crew to perform combat and special tasks as intended,” Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday.
“The crews of the Su-27 [fighter jets] of the Baltic Fleet fired from airborne weapons at cruise missiles and mock enemy aircraft,” the ministry announced on the Telegram messaging channel, adding that as well as improving skills, Russian fighter pilots are on “round-the-clock combat duty” guarding the air space of Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave.
Wedged between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast, Kaliningrad is Moscow’s westernmost state and was part of Germany until the end of World War II. Given to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the enclave has roughly 1 million residents – mainly Russians but also a small number of Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians.
Russia said last year that it had deployed warplanes armed with state-of-the-art Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to the Chkalovsk airbase in Kaliningrad as part of its “strategic deterrence”.
On Monday, the Russian defence ministry said that it had scrambled two fighter jets as UK Typhoon warplanes approached its border above the Black Sea and that the planes had “turned around and distanced themselves from the Russian border” following intervention from Russia’s fighter planes. The Typhoon jets were accompanying an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, the defence ministry said.
“The Russian planes safely returned to their airfield. There was no violation of the Russian border,” the ministry said.
Interceptions involving Russian and Western military aircraft have multiplied over the Black Sea and Baltic Sea in recent months amid growing tensions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
On Sunday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said that Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon fighter aircraft operating with the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia have scrambled to respond to Russian aircraft 21 times in the last 21 days. The RAF fighters are currently operating out of Estonia as part of NATO’s “quick reaction alert” to secure its eastern European flank.
“The RAF Typhoons launch to monitor the Russian aircraft when they do not talk to air traffic agencies, making them a flight safety hazard,” the UK defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
“These intercepts are a stark reminder of the value of collective defence and deterrence provided by NATO,” the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
RAF Typhoons in Estonia scrambled this afternoon to intercept a Russian Tu-134 ‘CRUSTY’ and 2x Su-27 ‘FLANKER’ Bs flying close to @NATO airspace. The Russian aircraft failed to comply with international norms and did not liaise with the relevant airspace control agencies. pic.twitter.com/XlEpK5onLv
— Royal Air Force (@RoyalAirForce) June 22, 2023
In May, Moscow said it had intercepted four US strategic bombers above the Baltic Sea in two separate incidents in one week. In April, a US Reaper military drone crashed in the Black Sea after a confrontation with two Russian fighter jets. Washington blamed risky manoeuvres by Russian fighter jets for causing the drone to crash.
Russia also scrambled warplanes to intercept French, German and Polish aircraft.