A news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Lithuania was abruptly halted as NATO jets scrambled to intercept two Russian warplanes.
The event at the Siauliai airbase was halted as pilots charged toward their planes in preparation for takeoff. Sanchez and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda were escorted away from their podiums to make way.
“Those two Russian jets did not file a flight plan, did not have their flight transponder on, or talk to traffic controllers,” NATO official told AP.
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
Within minutes, the Spanish fighter jets took off to intercept two Russian Su-24s flying from Kaliningrad over international waters in the Baltic Sea. They didn’t have a flight plan and didn’t respond to calls.
“Do you think nothing goes on in reality while presidents and prime ministers speak?” Nauseda said later. “I can confirm that the aircraft took off within less than 15 minutes. Thank you, Pedro, we’ve just witnessed how the air-policing mission works in reality. The qualification and readiness of your pilots gives us no reason for doubt.”
Russian air incursions over the Baltic Sea increased following President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, triggering European Union sanctions. The Baltic air-police mission intercepts Russian aircraft two to three times per week on average.
“We witnessed how well the Lithuanian and Spanish soldiers cooperate,” Sanchez said. “That’s what we’re here for — to defend the eastern borders and territorial integrity.”