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UK scrambles RAF fighter jets to intercept Russian planes above Baltic Sea

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The latest incident underlines raised tensions in the region, the scene of numerous military exercises ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months, while Armed Forces Minister James Heappey MP saying the move indicated the UK’s ongoing commitment to NATO and “air policing operations”. Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets deployed to Lithuania were scrambled on Friday to track a Russian Il-20 COOT A intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance plane plus two Russian Su-27 Flanker B aircraft spotted over the Baltic.

Two days earlier, Typhoons were similar deployed to intercept an Il-20 COOT A, also over the waterway.

A Typhoon pilot from 6 Squadron, attached to 135 Expeditionary Air Wing, was conducting Quick Reaction Alert duty when the scramble was called, a statement issued by the RAF explained.

Comparing it with Tuesday’s operation, he said: “This mission was more complex, as there were more aircraft to manage of different types and flying at different speeds.

“We are always ready to react in support of the NATO mission.”

The Typhoon aircraft approached the Russian formation and identified it as consisting of an ISR aircraft escorted by two fighters.

Air Vice Marshal Ian Duguid, The Air Officer Commanding 11 Group said: “Today saw the second RAF intercept of Russian aircraft over the Baltic.

“This remains routine activity, however it must be stressed that the RAF as part of NATO are conducting these activities to ensure that all flights are conducted within internationally accepted aviation rules.

“When this does not happen NATO will intercept and investigate.”

Mr Duguid added: “I congratulate all of our deployed personnel in Lithuania for the professional way that they are conducting the mission in conjunction with our Lithuanian and Spanish Allies, they bring great credit to the service.”

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Our Typhoon Force is playing a key part in support of the alliance’s air policing operations and our friends in Lithuania

James Heappey

The operation is part of the routine NATO Air Policing mission which has been conducted to police the skies since 2004.

Mr Heappey said: “The UK’s commitment to NATO is as strong as ever.

“Our Typhoon Force is playing a key part in support of the alliance’s air policing operations and our friends in Lithuania.

The RAF contribution to NATO deployments supports efforts to reassure the UK’s allies and demonstrates the nation’s wider commitment to the security of the region.

The Baltic region is a source of significant tension between the West and Russia.

All three Baltic states – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – are former Soviet republics which are now members of NATO.

Speaking last month, Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said the Western Military District, covering St Petersburg, was preparing for defensive drills of the Baltic Fleet and the Sixth Army.

Mr Shoigu said the area was “still facing the most threat for the military security of Russia” but insisted the drills were “purely defensive”.

Last year, a total of nine vessels were sent to the Baltic region in what the Royal Navy called the “first act” of a two-month mission known as Operation Baltic Protector, intended to demonstrate the determination of the UK and its allies to defend the sea, as well as countries which border it.

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