Lithuania accuses Russia of “airspace violation” during Zapad military exercise

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Lithuania accuses Russia of “airspace violation” during Zapad military exercise

VILNIUS – Lithuanian Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned Russian ambassador and handed a diplomatic note expressing protest over what it claimed as “a violation of the Lithuanian airspace”.

The incident took place in the evening of Sept. 16, according to the ministry.

“Two Russian military aircrafts IL-76 entered Lithuania’s airspace and stayed there for up to 2 minutes,” said the ministry in a press release.

The two military planes were flying from mainland Russia to its exclave of Kaliningrad, bordering Southern Lithuania, said the ministry. Lithuania, a small Baltic country with a population of less than 3 million, is the Eastern flank member country of NATO.

The Lithuanian foreign ministry “expressed its protest to the Russian ambassador and requested competent Russian authorities to provide and explanation over the incident as soon as possible.”

The incident took place during the Zapad 2017 military drill, held by Russia and Belarus on the border with Lithuania, Poland and Belarus.

Vytautas Bakas, the chair of the parliamentary committee for national security and defense, said the incident shouldn’t be a surprise for military officials, politicians or Lithuanian public.

“This shouldn’t be a surprise given the large scope of the exercise,” Bakas told local media.

The Russian defense ministry has repeatedly stated that flights by Russia’s Aerospace Forces are carried out “in strict accordance” with international regulations on the use of airspace over neutral waters, according to a report by Sputnik.

A week of strategic military exercise Zapad 2017 officially started on Thursday last week.

Currently, the Baltic skies at the Eastern flank of NATO are being policed by the U.S. rotational Air Force. Last month the United States has deployed seven fighter jets F-15C Eagle at Siauliai air base, Northern Lithuania, to take over the air policing mission. In recent two years, usually four allied fighter jets would conduct air policing missions from Lithuania.

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