NATO aircraft escort Russian jets in Baltic

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NATO planes saw off two Russian military planes who failed to identify themselves when approaching NATO air space above the Baltic Sea Monday, according to Latvia's defence ministry.

NATO member Latvia, a Soviet republic prior to 1991, termed Monday's incident "an unfriendly gesture".

"The fact the airplanes did not identify themselves as they approached Latvian airspace between the cities of Ventspils and Liepaja was not a friendly gesture," defence ministry's spokeswoman Dace Ancupane told AFP.

The NATO jets were deployed from the Lithuanian NATO military base in Siauliai, 123 kilometres (76 miles) from Riga.

The incident coincided with the launch of joint military exercises at the Adazi Training Area near the Latvian capital, Riga, with units from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United States, Ancupane said.

Over 1,700 servicemen from the five NATO countries will take part in the Sabre Strike 2011 exercise, which will end on October 31 in preparation for their possible future deployment in Afghanistan.

Baltic countries, who have a rocky relationship with their former masters at the Kremlin, see NATO as their defence provider.

NATO members take turns in air-patrolling the Baltic airspace as agreed with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Four "F-15C Eagle" fighter planes of the US Air Forces in Europe took over the NATO Baltic airspace patrol on September 1.

The last such incident occurred last year, Latvia's defence ministry said.

© 2010 AFP

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