Russia violates Finnish airspace for the sixth time in a year

Russia has violated Finland's airspace for a sixth time in the space of a year as the Finnish Air Force yesterday confirmed that a Russian Air Force freighter violated Finnish airspace.

According to Finnish broadcaster Yle, air force officials confirmed yesterday that the incident which occurred on 26 June saw a Russian Ilyushin IL-76 transport aircraft infiltrating Finnish territory for nearly a minute, penetrating 1.15 km into Finnish sovereign airspace in 53 seconds.

Finnish Hornet aircraft scrambled to escort the IL-76 away, after tracking the Russian aircraft while it was travelling in international airspace west of Russia, with its transmitter on. Finnish military officials tried to establish contact with the Russian pilot prior to the intrusion and notified him of his impending violation via radio.

The pilot of the strategic airlifter was then asked to leave Finnish airspace but responded to neither attempt at radio contact, prompting a scramble, according to the report. Yle estimates that five similar intrusions have occurred since last May.

The Finnish Border guard confirmed the incident and added that it has not received an explanation from Russia, however it dismisses the possibility that poor visibility or weather conditions could have made the Russian pilot inadvertently enter Finnish airspace.

Finland, although an EU country, is not a member of Nato, despite sometimes participating in military exercises with neighbouring allies. In May Finland's air force joined Nato members Norway, Britain and Germany among others in a joint drill called Arctic Challenge Exercise, while also cooperating with Baltic neighbours.

The Baltic states, all three of whom are Nato allies, have been among the nations most sharply opposed to Russia's audacious flights in international airspace. The Baltic air police force, currently based in Lithuania, has maintained a high rate of scrambles to match potential Russian incursions into Nato airspace.

In a drill last month Finland's air force performed air to ground bombing for the first time since the Second World War as they tested the new capabilities of their Hornet aircraft. The air force denied that this test was to do with Helsinki-Russia relations.