Last updated: December 15, 2014 4:17 pm

Scandinavians warn Russia after air near-miss

By Richard Milne, Nordic and Baltic Correspondent


A Russian bomber photographed by the RAF near UK airspace over the North Sea in April


Russia’s ambassadors to Denmark and Sweden have been summoned to hear complaints that lives were endangered in a near-miss involving an airliner and a Russian military aircraft. 
 
An SAS jet taking off from Copenhagen on Friday was warned by Swedish air traffic control to change course to avoid a Russian military intelligence flight, said Swedish authorities.

Martin Lidegaard, Denmark’s foreign minister, said on Monday it was “totally unreasonable that civilian lives are put at risk in this way. I hope we can reach an agreement with the Russians that we try to limit these kind of flights.”

The firm diplomatic response underlines the depth of concern among Baltic countries about Russian military aircraft flying without transponders on, meaning civil aircraft cannot detect them.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, said it was “serious, inappropriate and downright dangerous” that the Russian aircraft was flying with its transponder — used to identify its position — switched off. He told Swedish reporters: “It is remarkable and very serious. There is a risk of accidents that could ultimately lead to deaths.”

Nicolai Wammen, Denmark’s defence minister, said: “It is dangerous and completely unnecessary that Russian military aircraft fly so close to civil air traffic in the Baltic Sea. The safety of passengers must always come first, and Russia must respect that.”

The incident is the latest in a series involving Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea this year. In March, an SAS airliner came within 100 metres of a Russian military aircraft shortly after take-off from Copenhagen, Swedish television reported.
 
Russian aircraft have violated Swedish, Finnish and Estonian airspace this year — the latter judged by some Nato officials as the most serious incursion into the military alliance’s airspace since the cold war.
 
Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian defence and foreign minister, said more Russian aircraft had flown close to Latvia’s borders this year than in the previous nine.
 
“There is such an intensity that I’m just afraid that if it continues we will come close to a second event like what happened in Ukraine,” he said, referring to the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in July.
 
Finland’s aviation authorities revealed over the weekend that they had ordered civil aircraft to change course on Wednesday to avoid a group of Russian military aircraft over the Baltic without their transponders on.

Near miss Denamrk map


In the most recent incident, the Swedish and Danish military detected the Russian aircraft in international airspace on radar and warned the SAS flight, said to have been bound for Poznan, Poland.
 
Russia denied there was a risk of collision. Major General Igor Konashenkov of the defence ministry said: “The flight was in strict accordance with international laws on the use of airspace and did not violate state borders while remaining at a safe distance from the routes of civil aircrafts.” Nato jets also flew without their transponders on but Russian authorities were able to detect them, he said.

Nato responded: “This is not true. Nato aircraft adhere to international safety standards. Nato AWACS [surveillance] planes and air policing jets always turn on their transponders when flying in Europe.”

The incident comes amid a flurry of events underscoring regional tensions. Mr Hultqvist has said Sweden would call up former conscripts for retraining to boost the country’s military preparedness.

Norway said on Friday that the suspension of bilateral military co-operation with Russia — imposed after the invasion of Crimea — would remain until the end of 2015. Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s defence minister, said: “The situation in eastern Ukraine is serious, and Russia has indisputably a destabilising role. Russia supports separatists in eastern Ukraine military and military forces along the border. This is not acceptable.”

Oslo has also been shaken by reports in the newspaper Aftenposten that fake mobile base stations have been found near the prime minister’s office, the parliament, central bank and other places.

Authorities are not commenting on who could be responsible for the presumed surveillance.

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