Russia Tamed its Military Planes

By Rasmus Kagge and Toomas Sildam

Headdquarters of Defense Forces
Postimees Website
Tallin, Estonia
November 17, 2005
The dots marking Russian military planes’ violations of Estonian air space should disappear from radar screens. Russian military leaders have given clear instructions to pilots who fly aircraft from St Petersburg to the Kaliningrad Region to not violate the national borders of the Baltic States.

The instruction endorsed by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov lays down precise rules for Russia’s military aircraft to fly along the Gulf of Finland to the Kaliningrad Region and back, announced Commander of the Russian Air Force Army General Vladimir Mihkhailov yesterday.

“The instruction covers the activity of organizing and preparing the flights, the flight routes, as well as crew activity in order to not violate other countries’ national borders,” Mihkhailov told Interfax as reported by BNS.

Decrease Border Violations
Toivo Tootsen, chairman of the Estonian Parliamentary National Defence Committee, said that from now on we could hope for a significant decrease in the number of air-border violations by Russian planes.

“This is just because the blunder in Lithuania and repeated reproaches by Finland and Estonia to Russia coincided,” said Tootsen. “Some general in Moscow must have finally received his punishment.”

By the Russian air force’s blunder he means the events of 15 September, when a Russian SU-27 flying from the vicinity of St Petersburg towards Kaliningrad oblast and equipped with air-to-air rockets deviated into Lithuanian air space and crashed.

Estonian and Finnish authorities have repeatedly sent protest notes to Russia because of air space violations by Russian military aircraft.

“It seems that rather than malevolence the reason has been an attitude of cutting corners and carelessness,” Tootsen said.

The instructions on the Russian side clearly specify what the aircraft crew should be doing for the duration of the flight; it describes the procedures for radio-technical checks, piloting, search and rescue activities, and many other important points.

One of the founders of the Estonian Defence Forces, General Ants Laaneots, was optimistically modest in his statement.

“It is always welcome when our neighbouring country wishes to regulate the use of air space in accordance with international law and for that purpose sets up restrictions on its pilots in international territory as well as near border flight zones,” he said.

According to him, the air space violations by Russian pilots can be characterized as “careless and patronizing.”

“It is not always even malevolence, as they are used to flying like that. Especially near the island of Vaindloo, where there is a sharp corner in the north; it is inconvenient to fly around,” said Laaneots.

Scandalous story
According to the Estonian general, it was the international scandal following the crash of the SU-27 in Lithuania that disturbed Russian army leaders, and also the negative reactions by the EU and NATO. “The Russian side now keeps a low profile,” added Laaneots.

Those who shape Estonian foreign policy also suggest that it was after the crash of the SU-27 in Lithuania that Russia had to make changes about its Baltic Sea military flights.

An Estonian high-ranking diplomat said in private conversation with Postimees that Estonia’s protests had the effect of a mosquito noise, those of Finland had a slightly stronger impact, yet only the fighter’s debris on a Lithuanian field gave a clear indication that there was something wrong with Russian military planes around here.

“The Russians had no choice. They had to take firm hold of the reins, which hopefully means that there will be fewer border violations caused by carelessness and also by deliberate malevolence,” the source said.

Russian Planes in Estonian Skies
The latest violation of Estonian air space by a Russian military plane took place on 24 October, when an An-26 entered Estonian air space to a depth of 0.2 nautical miles in the Vaindloo Island area, staying less than a minute in Estonian air space. On 30 June 2005 a Russian IL-18 illegally entered Estonian air space to a depth of 0.6 nautical miles in the Vaindloo Island area. The violation lasted for 13 seconds. On 23 April 2005 a Russian military An-26 illegally entered Estonian air space to a depth of more than one nautical mile in the Vaindloo Island area, staying about a minute in Estonian air space.