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Russia says it 'chased away' NATO fighter jet near defense minister's plane

"The Russian Su-27 pilots pushed the fighter aircraft aside, not allowing it to come close to the liner," the Russian defense ministry's TV channel said.
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LONDON — A Russian fighter jet escorting the country's defense minister "chased away" a NATO F/A-18 that came close to the government plane, according to state-run media which released dramatic video of the incident.

NATO said it scrambled an unspecified number of fighter jets after tracking the Russian plane and its escort as they flew over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday.

The planes were flying in international airspace but came "close to allied airspace," NATO said in a statement. It said it did not know who was on board the plane, and that "once identification of the aircraft had taken place, the NATO jets returned to base."

Video of the incident appears to show the NATO jet sharply veering away from the plane carrying Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, but only after the Russian fighter, a Sukhoi Su-27, banked toward it.

According to Zvezda, a TV channel owned and operated by the ministry, the NATO plane "tried to get close to" Shoigu's aircraft "but the Russian Su-27 pilots pushed the fighter aircraft aside, not allowing it to come close to the airliner."

There was identical reporting from TASS, Russia's state-run news agency, whose correspondent was on board Shoigu's plane at the time. Both organizations said the Russian jet "chased away" the NATO plane.

The Russian defense minister was flying back to Moscow from Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian territory surrounded by European nations, where he attended war games that included troops from China, Iran and Venezuela.

It is not the first time Russia has reported an interaction between NATO's jets and an aircraft carrying Shoygu. In 2017, Zvezda published a video purporting to show a NATO F-16 jet flying alongside the ministerial plane, before being approached by an Su-27.

On Monday, Typhoon jets from Britain's Royal Air Force were scrambled after "two Tupolev Tu-142 Bears were seen on radar approaching U.K. airspace," the RAF said in a tweet.

For years NATO and Russia have been engaged in what Polish think tank the Warsaw Institute and others have called an "aerial Cold War."

The Western alliance accuses Russian aircraft of turning off their transponders and of flying close to and even into the airspace of its allies and neutral best Western-aligned Sweden. While Moscow says NATO has stepped up espionage at its Western border.

NATO said the jets it scrambled Tuesday were from its Air Policing mission, which is designed to protect allied airspace. It did not say which country the jets were from.

Alexander Smith reported from London, and Tatyana Chistikova from Moscow.