Russian Jets Run Off By NATO Fighter Planes Over Baltic — Three Reported Incidents In Single Day

Jonathan Vankin

Russian jets flying over the Baltic Sea dangerously close to the border of NATO ally Latvia were intercepted and run off by NATO fighter planes in three separate incidents reported by Latvia's military Sunday. The encounters were just the latest in what has been a record number of confrontations in the skies between Russian and NATO aircraft this year.

The appearance of Russian jets over the Baltic follows closely after Norway released a video last week of a Russian fighter jet cutting off a Norwegian military plane in mid-air, avoiding a disastrous collision by just 60 feet. The Norwegian military did not reveal when the frightening near-miss took place.

In the first incident, reported Sunday evening Latvian time, NATO F-16 jets stationed in the Baltic as part of the NATO policing mission there took off to intercept a squadron of six Russian jets skirting Latvian air space.

The Russian jets included four Tupelov Tu-95 bombers and two Tu-22 bombers similar to the Tu-22 pictured above.

— NBS (@Latvijas_armija) December 7, 2014

Tupulov is a Moscow-based aerospace and defense firm that serves as one of the major manufacturers of aircraft for the Russian military, as it did for the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.

The Tu-22 was the first supersonic bomber in the Soviet air fleet, first flying in 1959, and has seen combat missions for Libya in that country's war against Chad and Tanzania, and in Saddam Hussien's Iraq during the lengthy Iran-Iraq war.

In the second Sunday incident reported by the Latvian military about two hours after the first, Canadian Hornet fighter jets took off to catch up to four more Russian aircraft.

The Russian jets this time included three Tupelov Tu-134 jets — which double as commercial airliners and military planes — of the type pictured below.

The Tu-134, however, was retired as a commercial airline jet in 2012, after a crash the previous year which killed 47 people. The fourth jet in the Russian encounter with the Canadian NATO planes was as Antonov An-72 transport jet, commonly used by the Russian Air Force.

The final showdown in the skies Sunday between Russian jets and NATO fighters took place sometime after 10 p.m. Latvian time, when NATO planes intercepted two more Tu-134 jets an another AN-72.

— NBS (@Latvijas_armija) December 7, 2014

All of the incidents took place over neutral waters in the Baltic Sea. The Baltics have been the site of dozens of aerial encounters between Russian jets and NATO fighters throughout 2014, in what military and political experts see as a return to Cold War tensions.