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Russian fighter jet chases off NATO warplane approaching plane carrying Russian Defense Minister over neutral waters

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A Russian fighter jet forced a NATO warplane away from a plane carrying the Russian Defense Minister flying above neutral waters in the Baltic Sea, the state-run TASS news agency said Tuesday.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was returning to Moscow from the Russian Baltic region of Kaliningrad, which is surrounded by Poland and Lithuania.  He attended a ceremony celebrating the construction of a military academy, the agency said, according to Reuters.

In this video grab taken from a footage on Aug. 13, 2019, and distributed by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, a Russian air force’s Su-27 fighter jet, bottom, maneuvers to ward off a NATO F-18 warplane over the Baltic Sea. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

A Spanish F-18 jet based in Lithuania approached the minister’s plane, prompting one of two Russian SU-27 fighters to see it off, Reuters reported.  A video released by Russia shows a SU-27 fighter jet bank sharply to the left toward the NATO plane, forcing it to maneuver away to prevent a collision.

A NATO official said in a statement to Newsweek Tuesday “a Russian aircraft, escorted by at least one Russian fighter jet, was tracked over the Baltic Sea earlier today.”

“Jets from NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled to identify the aircraft which flew close to Allied airspace. Once identification of the aircraft had taken place, the NATO jets returned to base,” the official added. “NATO has no information as to who was on board.”

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Spanish F-18 fighter jets have been based in Siauliai, Lithuania, since May as part of Spain’s latest deployment under NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission which oversees the airspace near the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Newsweek reported.

A similar incident occurred in 2017, when a Polish F-16 fighter approached Shoigu’s plane over the Baltic Sea and a Russian jet pushed it away. There have been frequent encounters between Russian and NATO aircraft in recent years as both sides have increased military patrols amid growing tensions stemming from the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some of the encounters trigger mutual accusations of pilots performing unsafe maneuvers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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