Russian Spy Plane Violates NATO Air Space, Run Off By Canadian Fighter Pilots In Lithuania

Jonathan Vankin

A Russian spy plane was intercepted Saturday by NATO fighter jets over the Baltic sea Saturday — the second time this week that NATO fighters scrambled to drive away a Soviet-era Russian Ilyushin IL-20, a turbo-prop powered surveillance aircraft. But this time, the Russian plane was caught inside NATO air space over Lithuania — a possible sign that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is growing bolder in stepping up his military provocations against NATO.

On Thursday, NATO jets intercepted a Russian spy plane — also an IL-20 — flying close to Latvian air space in the Baltic Sea.

Canadian CF-18 Hornet fighter jets stationed in Lithuania were flying an otherwise routine training exercise when the Canadian pilots spotted the Russian spy plane.

"The CF-18s intercepted and visually identified a Russian Federation Air Force (RFAF) Ilyushin Il-20 COOT A," the Canadian Department of National Defense announced Saturday, adding that the Canadian pilots came away with photographs of the Russian plane, which they said had actually breached Lithuanian territory.

The Canadian pilots tailed the Russian plane for about five minutes, making sure it was safely on its way out of NATO air space when the planes got the order to go back to their home base.

A squadron of four Royal Canadian Air Force jets have been stationed in Lithuania since August, as Canada takes its designated turn policing the area as part of the NATO force in the Baltic region. And Saturday's encounter was the third time they came face to face with Russian planes apparently spying on NATO, or at lest testing the NATO response to the Russian provocations.

On October 7, Canadian fighter jets intercepted a Russian military transport plane flying close to NATO airspace over the Baltic Sea. They tailed that Russian plane for about 10 minutes, making sure it got to a Russian airfield. They also encountered a Russian transport plane in September.

But Saturday's intercept was the most dramatic and perilous yet, as the Canadian CF-18s this time caught a Russian plane on a spy mission inside a NATO-controlled area.

The heightened tensions between Russian and Ukraine, where a new government hostile to Russia and friendly toward Europe and the West was voted into power earlier this year, has added an extra layer of tension to the repeated Russian flights around, and now into NATO space.

The Canadian Air Force is taking on the task of keeping Russian spy planes out of NATO space in the Baltic, in addition to its mission in Iraq as part of the United States-led force carrying out airstrikes against ISIS terrorist fighters in that country.