British and German air force fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace, the U.K. Defense Ministry said Wednesday, amid mounting concerns about confrontation in the skies near Russia and Ukraine.
The U.K. and Germany are conducting joint air policing missions in Estonia as part of NATO efforts to bolster its eastern flank in response to Russia.
The Typhoon jets responded Tuesday after a Russian air-to-air refueling aircraft failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control, the U.K. ministry said. The Russian plane didn’t enter the airspace of Estonia, a NATO member.
British and German planes are patrolling together as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission until the end of April.
Wing Commander Scott Maccoll, Commander of the Royal Air Force’s 140 Expeditionary Air Wing, said “it was great to see the U.K. and German elements operate as one team.”
U.K. armed forces minister James Heappey said “this joint U.K. and German deployment in the Baltics clearly demonstrates our collective resolve to challenge any potential threat to NATO’s borders, whilst demonstrating our combined strength.”
Such interceptions are routine —- even before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, NATO planes were involved in about 400 interceptions a year with Russian aircraft. Germany’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday’s incident was the 28th time Luftwaffe planes had scrambled since German forces were stationed in Estonia last summer.
But the incident comes amid heightened tensions after a collision between a Russian jet and a U.S. drone over the Black Sea.
Washington and Moscow gave conflicting accounts of Tuesday’s incident. The U.S. said a Russian Su-27 fighter jet struck the propeller of a MQ-9 Reaper drone, and U.S. forces had to bring down the unmanned craft. Russia said the drone crashed after making a “sharp maneuver.”
The incident appeared to be the first time since the height of the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft was brought down after an encounter with a Russian warplane. It highlighted the risk of confrontation between Russia and the West amid the war in Ukraine.
Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this story.