Putin spoils party: Politicians' news conference interrupted by Russian warplanes

Pilots scramble to take off in plane used as backdrop for news conference

A news conference by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at a Lithuanian air base was dramatically cut short after fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian warplane that had violated the aerospace of the Baltic nation without warning.

Broadcast footage, filmed at the Siauliai air base on Thursday, showed the bemused politicians watching as fighter pilots ran towards the plane situated behind them and climbed inside.

Mr Nauseda briefly continued speaking, until he and Mr Sanchez were led aside by aides. The podiums and flags were removed and media dispersed to clear the way for take-off.

Russian air incursions over the Baltic Sea nation have becomes a regular occurrence after Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, triggering European Union sanctions.

On average, the Baltic air-police mission intercepts Russian aircraft about two to three times a week.

Spanish jets, based in Lithuania on a Nato mission to police Baltic air space, took off at 08:55 GMT after reports that a military jet had taken off from Russia's Kaliningrad region without filing a flight plan, said a spokesperson for the Lithuanian army's joint chiefs of staff.

A Nato official said the Eurofighters identified two Russian SU-24 jets heading northeast, which did not file a flight plan, have their transponders turned on or talk to air traffic controllers.

After take-off the news conference resumed and Sanchez thanked the pilots "for the hard work they do to defend the territorial integrity of Lithuania as we just saw".

There was no danger to Sanchez or Nauseda, the Lithuanian president's spokesman said.

"This demonstrates once again the importance of Nato air policing mission, which has been running for 60 years to keep our skies safe," said Nato Spokesperson Oana Lungescu.

Seven Spanish Eurofighter jets have been based at Siauliai air base since April 30 for the Baltic air policing mission, which also includes four Italian F-35 aircraft at Estonia's Amari air base.

The Baltic air police mission routinely follows Russian military aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea between the Russian mainland and the Kaliningrad enclave. The Russian jets often fly without filing a flight plan.

Updated: July 9th 2021, 1:09 PM
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