NATO member Estonia says an Mi-8 Hip helicopter belonging to the Russian Border Guard intruded into its airspace for about two minutes on Saturday night.
The helicopter flew above the Koidula region of south-eastern Estonia, along the border with Russia, Estonia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement issued on Tuesday, according to the Estonian ERR news outlet.
The Hip’s crew filed no flight plan and turned off its transponder and failed to establish radio communications with Estonian air traffic control, ERR reported.
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) summoned Russia's Ambassador Vladimir Lipaev, who was 'handed a note' on Saturday.
"Estonia considers this an extremely serious and regrettable incident that undoubtedly causes additional tensions and is completely unacceptable," the MFA said in a statement released on Tuesday, according to ERR, which reported that this was the second time in 2022 that Russian aircraft have intruded into Estonian airspace. Last year, there were five such breaches.
It is unclear if NATO fighters that are forward-deployed to the Baltics for the alliance's shared air policing mission were scrambled during the incursion.
Neighboring Lithuania, also a NATO nation, has experienced a far higher rate of Russian intrusions into its airspace, according to its Ministry of Defense (MoD), ERR reported.
Russian warplanes fly through Lithuania’s airspace every week, its MoD said. Like the intrusion into Estonia, they usually have no pre-filed flight plans and transponders that are switched off.
The latest incidents took place less than a week before a scheduled NATO summit in Madrid, where leaders will discuss, among other things, “Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” and the “new security reality in Europe.”
By intruding into neighboring airspace, the Russians “are trying to create some sort of context ahead of the summit,” Kusti Salm, permanent secretary at Estonia's MoD, told journalists.
“During the ongoing exercises, Russia is simulating missile attacks against Estonia,” Salm added. “This is something that has become daily... This is the picture of the threat. It has never been as serious as it is now.”
Russian naval vessels are also apparently causing problems. The Russian ambassador to Denmark was summoned to the Danish foreign ministry on Friday after a Russian military vessel twice violated that NATO country’s territorial waters off the Baltic island of Bornholm, the Associated Press reported.
The incursions come as Russia has threatened Lithuania over the banning of rail shipments of goods into the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, a heavily armed salient nestled between southwest Lithuania and northeast Poland where Russia’s Baltic Fleet is headquartered.
Lithuania says it is only following European Union sanctions against Russia imposed after its full-scale war on Ukraine, according to the BBC.
But Russia "will certainly respond to such hostile actions," senior security official Nikolai Patrushev said.
While the direct devastation wrought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been contained within that nation’s borders, the Baltic nations see themselves as potentially Moscow's next target. This puts greater significance on airspace incursions like the one that occurred on Saturday. Russia is clearly showing it has little regard for the sovereignty of its former client states, which is a far more ominous message now than it was before February 24th, when Russia fully invaded Ukraine.
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