Russia denies both airspace violations, PM Sipilä promises thorough investigation

Russian SU-27 fighter planes are suspected of violating Finnish airspace south of Porvoo on two separate occasions Thursday. Despite photos taken by the Finnish Air Force of the offending planes, Russian officials deny any involvement.

The Finnish Air Force tweeted this picture of the plane that violated Finnish air space at 4:43 pm on October 6. Image: Puolustusvoimat

Finland says two different planes crossed into its airspace Thursday over the Gulf of Finland. The first incident took place at 4:43 pm south of the Finnish city of Porvoo, and another was noted at 9.33 pm in the same area. Estonia also reported a Russian jet incursion into their airspace at 7:28 pm. Russia's defence ministry dismissed the reports Friday, saying SU-27 military planes had conducted training flights on Thursday and Friday over neutral Gulf of Finland waters. The Reuters news service was the first to report the Russian reaction.

Earlier on Friday the Russian TASS news service relayed a comment from the Russian defence minister that “all of Russian air force flights are conducted according to international agreements in neutral zones, with no violations of other countries’ airspace.”

The Finnish Board Guard is charged with investigating the incidents. The evidence is strong, as the Air Force managed to snap photos of the offending fighter planes on both occasions.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry reported on Twitter at 4:39 pm Friday afternoon that it had summoned the Russian ambassador to Finland to an official interview regarding the suspected violations. The ministry said it had also sent the relevant material about the incidents to Ambassador Alexander Rumyantsev.

Russian exercises over the Baltic

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle ran a story Friday that said the violations may be linked to ongoing air exercises being conducted by the Russian forces. The Russian defence minister released a statement on Thursday that flight tactic exercises were taking place.

The release identified the inland Krusk region as the exercise hub, explaining that the local Mig29 unit would be practicing together with the Kaliningrad SU-27 and SU-24 fighter plane units.

“The flights will be carried out in mixed pairs and alignments primarily over the Baltic Sea, which will make the task more of a challenge,” the Russian statement read. The Finnish Defence Ministry reported heavy Russian traffic over the Baltic Sea when it announced the second airspace violation on its website at 1:39 am on October 7.

Defence Minister admits questionable timing

The timing of the airspace violations has caused some to draw the conclusion that Russia is making a statement with the incursions. Finland was namely preparing to sign a bilateral defence cooperation agreement with the US the next day.

In a press conference called Friday, Finland’s Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö said the violations would have no effect on the Finnish-US pact.

“Finland will sign the declaration of intent nevertheless,” he said. 

Niinistö told the press that he had not been in contact with Russia about the bilateral agreement.

“I’m sure the information has been relayed by officials, as it has been publicly available, and it surely led to discussions. But I haven’t met with my Russian colleague on the matter, for example,” Niinistö said.

Niinistö admitted that the Russian airspace violations coincided with Finland’s agreement with the US, but he declined to speculate on any other connections or whether Russia had tried to show its hand.

The defence minister was also reluctant to say if Finland had increased its defence readiness in response to the Thursday incursions.

“The readiness issue is not made public as a rule,” he said.

He would also not reveal from which location the Finnish Hornet jets had launched to identify the Russian planes.

“Several reconnaissance flights were performed in the last 24 hours,” he said.

PM: Situation calls for careful investigation

Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä commented on Friday that the suspected airspace violations were exceptional and serious in nature. He assured the public that the incidents will be examined carefully.

“It’s serious that it could happen twice in the same day,” Sipilä said.