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Regular air space violations by Russian jets underline need for NATO air-policing over Baltic states

Prancūzų „Mirage 2000“ ir danų F-16 ore virš Zoknių
Andriaus Vaitkevičiaus / 15min nuotr. / Prancūzų „Mirage 2000“ ir danų F-16 ore virš Zoknių
Šaltinis: BNS
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Germany's Deputy Ambassador to Lithuania Maximilian Hurnaus says that repeated flights of Russian airplanes over the Baltic Sea show that the NATO air-policing mission to guard Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian skies is indeed necessary.

The German diplomat stated his position at the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base in Šiauliai, northern part of the country, during a ceremony of handover of the mission from German to Polish aviators.

"Flights of Russian airplanes over the Baltic Sea happening over and over underline the necessity of air-policing," the German diplomat said to state and military officials and diplomats at the ceremony.

On 29 March, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry said it handed a diplomatic note to Russia's Ambassador Vladimir Chkhikvadze over the the 27 March violation of Lithuanian air-space by a Russian military jet Su-27. According to the press release, a Russian military aircraft Su-27 flew 12 kilometers into Lithuania's territory at Vištytis before turning back and returning to the Russian Kaliningrad region. The German Air Force jets, which are stationed in Šiauliai, in the framework of the NATO air-policing mission, were not ordered to take off in connection to the incident – Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis then explained that response was impossible over the short duration of the incident.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthias Fensterseifer, head of the outgoing German contingent, told journalists that the three-month shift in Šiauliai went well.

"All in all, we had about 60 scrambles for training, so we're doing a lot of training over the Baltic states. All in all we have about 270 hours of flying missions in the air," he said.

Fensterseifer added that more than 12 alpha scrambles in response to air-space violations were performed during the shift. The response does not necessarily mean infringement, they may be carried out in connection to escorting of other aircrafts that come too close to the Baltic air space.

Fensterseifer also noted substantial positive changes in the Šiauliai aviation base since 2005.

"You see the new hangars over there, all that was built during the recent years. It enables us to do our mission well, so we are quite happy being here," said the German officer.

Lieutenant Colonel Lezsek Blach of the Polish contingent said that the Polish pilots were ready for various types of flights. Major Krzystof Stabicki, the second-ranking officer of the Polish team, said that response to violations was the most interesting for pilots.

"If the weather is good, we can fly, because we would like to fly over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia," Blach told journalists.

"Tango scrambles are training and alpha scrambles are for real. Of course, it's more exiting for the pilot," said Stabicki.

The Polish contingent chief noted that the actions to be performed by the aviators in the Baltic air-space had been performed in their home base in Malbork on a regular basis.

"During our mission in Malbork, we saw different planes, Russian, too," said Blach shen asked about whether he had seen Russian airplanes in Poland.

He applauded the cooperation with the personnel of the Lithuanian aviation base in preparation for the deployment of Polish airmen in Šiauliai.

"I think everything is okay. We've done some reconnaissance before the contingent came, so we discussed that. Now everything is okay, we are very happy and enjoy the cooperation. The cooperation between us and commander of Lithuanian airbase in Šiauliai is very good. I hope there won't be any problems," he added.

Poland's Ambassador Janusz Skolimowski said during the ceremony he did no think the atmosphere would be spoiled by the controversy between Lithuania and Poland about various aspects of Poland's participation in the mission.

“I don't think so. As I've mentioned, it's my fourth time here. Of course, the conditions are changing to the better every time," the Polish diplomat told BNS.

"Business is as usual for NATO and for Baltic countries. (Polish) President (Bronislaw) Komorowski said on 16 February in Vilnius that we are very proud to safeguard the Lithuanian sky," the ambassador noted.

Asked whether Poland intended to participate in NATO mission after the shift, Skolimowski said: "I don't know, I am not a military officer or a politician, I am a state official. I am very proud to see us here. As your president said, we'll wait for (the NATO summit in) Chicago."

Lithuania's Defense Vice-Minister Vytautas Umbrasas told journalists about Poland's positive stance on the air-policing mission.

"This is the first time I've heard about Poland intending to leave the list. Quite the opposite, another shift is planned for 2014," the vice-minister said.

BNS
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