A Russian aircraft was intercepted by British and German fighter jets in close proximity to Estonian airspace, a statement from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) said on Friday. This marks the second similar incident this week, as NATO conducts collaborative air policing operations in the area.
The two Typhoon jets intercepted “a Russian military Tu-134 passenger jet, known by the NATO name Crusty, that was being escorted by two Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighter jets, and an AN-12 Cub military transport aircraft,” the RAF said.
The news has emerged against the backdrop of renewed public appeals by Ukrainian leaders for western fighter jets to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks. However, according to defence experts who spoke with CNN, NATO allies are unlikely to deploy more advanced jets to Ukraine.
While interceptions like this are not uncommon for NATO aircraft, the joint air policing mission between two NATO allies is unprecedented, as stated in the RAF’s announcement. The operation was described as a show of support for Estonia during a time of heightened tension by the RAF, reaffirming the UK, Germany, and other NATO countries’ commitment to their Estonian ally.
“We quickly identified the Russian aircraft and then monitored it as it flew close to NATO airspace,” Richard Leask, an RAF commander, said in the statement. Air policing missions help NATO identify any aircraft of interest, “ensure we know who they are” and keep everyone in the airspace safe, Leask continued.
“This is part of being a fighter pilot and is what we and our German colleagues have trained together to be able to do,” the commander said.
Tensions are escalating as the Royal Air Force (RAF) carries out Operation Azotize in Estonia, which involves the defence against any aircraft that poses a threat to Baltic-NATO airspace, according to the military statement.
The UK is set to take over leadership from the German detachment in April, and joint missions between the allies will continue until the end of that month. This week’s two interceptions by NATO aircraft followed the release of astonishing aerial footage showing a Russian jet apparently hitting a US drone over the Black Sea after buzzing it.
This incident underscored the risk of a direct clash between Russian and NATO forces during Russia’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
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