During the period of public disclosure adopted since 2005, Finland has seen a record number of airspace violations by Russian aircraft. The skies above Finland seem to be attracting more unannounced visitors than ever before since the country began naming and shaming airspace violators.
In the five years since 2005, Finland did not report airspace violations – at least not publicly. But that changed when the then cabinet’s Foreign and Security Policy Committee introduced new rules.
“Proven cases of airspace intrusions will be handled jointly by the Foreign Ministry, Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry/Border Guards who will at the same time manage publicity. The basic principle will be to provide information about all clear cut cases of airspace violations,” the Committee declared.
Many incursions before 2005 policy
Although the records don’t reflect it, there had been many incursions before the Committee ruling. Long-term Committee secretary Markus Lyra said that at its peak, Finland saw about 10 infringements in one year.
“After that Russia improved her systems. The Russian leadership decided that they would not violate Finnish airspace any longer,” Lyra added.
The numbers provided by the Defence Ministry indicate that in the beginning at least, the decision to publicise infringements had the desired effect: one year after the new practice was introduced just one case involving a Russian plane was reported.
Nearly ten years on however, the situation appears to have come full circle and public disclosures of unauthorised entry into Finnish airspace no longer seem to act as a deterrent, Lyra noted. At the highest level, both the Finnish Prime Minister and Defence Minister have been using a firmer language with Russia over this year’s five airspace incursions.
“Tiptoeing around the subject won’t help,” Lyra remarked.
“Sometimes Russia responds, sometimes apologises”
Since 2005 aircraft from the US and Sweden as well have Russia have strayed into Finnish skies. The data indicate that they have mainly been military planes.
In general military aviation traffic over the Gulf of Finland has involved maintenance traffic, with Russian planes transiting to Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia, according to senior staff officer Olli-Pekka Lund, who is responsible for regional monitoring.
“I could imagine that weather conditions between May and August such as thunderstorms caused pilots to change their flight coordinates and brought them into our airspace without authorisation,” Lund explained.
However Lyra pointed out that there was no mention of weather in connection with incursions in previous years.
“Sometimes Russia responds, sometimes it apologises, and sometimes there is no answer. As (communications policies have changed) Russia’s reactions have become sharper. We at least try to be careful,” Lyra commented.