On July 8th, a news conference with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at a NATO airbase in Lithuania was interrupted, when Typhoon fighter jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian warplanes.
The two leaders were three minutes into a news conference, televised live from the Siauliai airbase in northern Lithuanian, when flight crews responded to an alarm and scrambled their jets. The leaders and the media were led away.
Military officials later confirmed the Spanish jets, based in Lithuania on a NATO mission to police Baltic airspace, were activated after reports two Russian Su-24 combat jets had taken off from Russia’s Kaliningrad region without filing flight plans, without their transponders on, and without responding to regional air traffic control.
After the jets departed, the news conference continued, with the Spanish Prime Minister saying that this was evidence NATO presence was “needed”.
“We have seen a real-life case of what happens and precisely it justifies the presence of Spanish troops with the seven Eurofighters in Lithuania.”
In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said the two Su-24 bombers were flying a regular training mission over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea. The statement claimed the flight was performed in strict accordance with international rules of using airspace and without violation of any country’s borders.
Witnessed allied solidarity in action today. The press conference w/ 🇪🇸 PM @sanchezcastejon at airbase of @NATO Baltic Air Police Mission was suddenly interrupted. 🇪🇸 fighter jets alpha scrambled after the alarm of the infringed airspace.
Thank you 🇪🇸 for our security #WeAreNATO pic.twitter.com/g4IlJ3Ow22
— Gitanas Nausėda (@GitanasNauseda) July 8, 2021
El Presidente del Gobierno @sanchezcastejon visita el #DestacamentoVilkas 🇪🇸 en #Lithuania 🇱🇹 del @EjercitoAire en la misión de Policía Aérea del Báltico #BAP @NATO#MOPS#WeAreNATO@SpainNATO@Defensagob pic.twitter.com/SBiGiqv3H8
— Estado Mayor Defensa 🇪🇸 (@EMADmde) July 8, 2021
Spanish-language outlet El Pais reported that unnamed military sources “assume that Russia intentionally raised the alert for the visit of the Spanish president,” especially since there had been no previous such incidents in the previous 18 days.
“Alliance sources believe that it is not by chance that [the alert] occurred during the appearance of Sánchez and the Lithuanian president,” the newspaper added.
However, Russian military aircraft activity in the Baltic, and especially between the exclave of Kaliningrad and Russia itself is by no means uncommon.
Currently, around 140 personnel from the Spanish military are at Šiauliai for the BAP (Baltic Air Police) mission.
The Spanish Air Force, or Ejército del Aire, has been providing the latest BAP rotation at the Lithuanian base since April 30, while an Italian Air Force F-35A contingent is meanwhile making its debut appearance at Ämari in Estonia.
These are currently augmented by a detachment of Turkish Air Force F-16s at Malbork in Poland.
To date, Spain has been one of the active contributors to BAP, with eight of these deployments to the Baltic since 2006. As well as Typhoons, Spain has also sent Mirage F1M and EF-18 Hornet fighters to the region.
During the 2018 deployment, the Spanish Typhoons made headlines after an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM was accidentally fired by one of the jets, around 50 miles west of the country’s border with Russia.
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