NATO jets scrambled to intercept Russian aircraft in Norway and Baltics

Russian jets off the coast of northern Norway, 25 April 2023
Russian jets off the coast of northern Norway, 25 April 2023 Copyright Norwegian Air Force
Copyright Norwegian Air Force
By Andrew Naughtie
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Norway sent up two F-35s off the coast of Finnmark, while Britain and Germany launched Eurofighters over the Baltic Sea.


NATO jets have intercepted Russian military planes in international airspace, continuing a long-established pattern of behaviour by the Kremlin that has taken on new significance since the invasion of Ukraine.

The Norwegian air force says it scrambled two F-35 fighters to respond to the sighting of several Russian planes off the northern region of Finnmark.

According to the air force, the group "consisted of two strategic bombers of the type Blackjack (Tu-160), followed by two tankers of the type Midas (Il-78), as well as three Foxhound fighter jets (MiG-31)".

After Norway shared details of the incident, Russia’s ministry of defence issued a statement describing a “planned flight” of 14 hours during which “long-range aircraft crews carried out night and day refuelling in the air”. It did not give a reason for the exercise, simply saying that its pilots “regularly fly over the neutral waters of the Arctic, the North Atlantic, the Black and Baltic Seas, and the Pacific Ocean”.

The Finnmark incident echoes another that occurred in early March, when two Norwegian F-35s intercepted two Ilyushin IL-38 reconnaissance planes in the same area.

Meanwhile, Eurofighter jets belonging to Germany and Britain intercepted three Russian military aircraft flying over international waters in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, all with their transponders switched off.

The Luftwaffe shared pictures of two SU-27 fighters and an IL-20 reconnaissance plane – one of the longest-serving and most secretive intelligence-gathering craft in the Russian military arsenal.

Russian and NATO military aircraft routinely intercepted each other in international airspace hundreds of times a year prior to the invasion of Ukraine in 2022; in the course of the last two decades, Britain’s Royal Air Force alone has been scrambled to respond to Russian military flights on well over 100 occasions.

Encounters between aircraft have continued amid the heightened tensions resulting from the Ukrainian war, but aside from an incident in which two Russian fighters downed an American drone over the Black Sea, none have as yet resulted in physical encounters.

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