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Russian Defense Ministry rejects Vilnius 'airspace violation' accusations as politicized

The Lithuanian authorities claim that two Russian Il-76 planes entered its airspace and stayed there for about two minutes

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. Lithuania’s claims about intentional violation of its air borders by Russian Il-76 planes during the Zapad-2017 (West-2017) drills are politicized and have nothing to do with the real state of things, the Russian defense ministry said on Monday.

The incident took place on September 16. The Lithuanian authorities claim that two Russian Il-76 planes entered its airspace and stayed there for about two minutes. A relevant note was handed over to the Russian ambassador to Vilnius.

According to the Russian defense ministry, the planes were on a planned flight from the city of Taganrog in Russia’s southern Rostov region to the city of Chernyakhovsk in the westernmost Kaliningrad region. While flying over the Baltic Sea’s neutral waters, the planes’ crews detected a storm front about 20 kilometers wide and some 60 kilometers long, which "posed a threat to the planes’ and the crews’ safety," the ministry said.

"I order to avoid the hazard and in strict conformity with the norms of international aviation law, the leading crew of the Russian plane made a voice inquiry to the zonal airspace control center in Vilnius to ask permission for necessary deviation from the flight route towards Lithuania’s air border to fly past the storm front," the ministry said. "As soon as a relevant permission was received from the Lithuanian side, the planes deviated from the route to fly past the hazardous area and returned to the initial route."

"No claims to the Russian crews came from the Lithuanian air traffic control authorities," the ministry noted. ""We would like to stress that in the following two days the Russian defense ministry deceived no claims from the Lithuanian side via the military diplomatic channels. We consider the Lithuanian side’s claims about alleged intentional violation of its airspace by Russian planes during the Zapad-2017 drills as politicized and having nothing to do with reality."

A large-scale exercise Zapad-2017 began in Russia and Belarus on September 14. The drills are held at three proving grounds in Russia and six in Belarus involving 12,700 troops (7,200 Belarussian and 5,500 Russian), about 70 warplanes and helicopters, up to 680 ground vehicles, including about 250 tanks, 200 artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers and mortars and ten warships.

The main purpose of the exercise is to improve the compatibility of command and control centers, test new documentation and let commanders of all levels practice planning and control of operations on the basis of experience gained in the latest military conflicts.

The exercise will last till September 20.