AMSTERDAM – Two Dutch F-16 fighter jets, part of a NATO force patroling the skies above the Baltic states, intercepted a Russian Ilyushin transport aircraft after it intruded into Estonian and Lithuanian airspace, the Dutch government said on Thursday.
After the interception, which took place late on Wednesday, the Ilyushin flew off in the direction of the Russian city of Kaliningrad, the Dutch defense ministry said in a statement.
The exclave of Kaliningrad is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, both NATO members as are the other two Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia.
Last month, NATO said it had conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year, about three times as many as in 2013, amid sharply increased tensions between the West and Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
The Western military alliance has recently reported increased levels of Russian military activity in the skies above the Baltic Sea. Last month, Norway scrambled F-16s to track four Russian bombers.
President Vladimir Putin has committed to reinvigorating Russia’s armed forces, which had been undermined by the economic troubles that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. He denies any aggression toward NATO.
Members of the U.S.-led NATO alliance have stepped up their vigilance since the Ukraine crisis erupted earlier this year.
On Thursday the defense ministers of Britain, the three Baltic states and four Nordic countries — NATO members Norway and Denmark and neutral Finland and Sweden — agreed to step up cooperation on intelligence and air force training to counter Moscow’s increased activity in Northern Europe.