By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russia’s Defense Ministry has said that Russian Su-27 warplanes forced away a NATO F-18 jet after it approached an aircraft carrying Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over international waters.
The TASS news agency on August 13 reported that Shoigu’s plane was flying from Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad to Moscow when the incident occurred over the Baltic Sea.
The report said Shoigu’s plane was also carrying a TASS reporter at the time. It did not specify Shoigu’s aircraft type.
A NATO official told RFE/RL in an e-mail that “a Russian aircraft, escorted by at least one Russian fighter jet, was tracked over the Baltic Sea earlier today.”
“Jets from NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled to identify the aircraft which flew close to Allied airspace. Once identification of the aircraft had taken place, the NATO jets returned to base,” the spokesman said, adding that NATO had no information as to who was on board.
Russian media reported the minister’s aircraft was being escorted by two navy Su-27 jet fighters at the time.
TASS earlier reported Shoigu was visiting Kaliningrad for a ceremony marking the start of construction on a branch of the Nakhimov Naval School, among other activities.
Russian media reported a similar event involving a plane carrying Shoigu in June 2017, saying the minister’s plane was “buzzed” by a NATO jet over the Baltic Sea before being chased away by escort planes.
At the time, NATO denied its fighter had been chased away, saying it had been sent to track a fleet of Russian planes that failed to identify themselves. It said the fighter crew had no knowledge of the passengers on board.
Encounters between Russian and U.S., as well as NATO warplanes, have increased as Moscow seeks to demonstrate its resurgent military might.
Such incidents have added tension to Russia’s relationship with the West, which has been severely strained by Moscow’s takeover of Crimea, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and its alleged meddling in the U.S. election in 2016.