By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) – A news conference of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at a Lithuanian air base was interrupted on Thursday when Spanish jets were scrambled to respond to the launch of a Russian warplane.
A live broadcast showed the news conference at Siauliai air base, in front of the nose of a military jet, interrupted after three minutes, as pilots began running towards the plane and climbing inside.
Nauseda briefly continued speaking, until he and Sanchez were led aside. The podiums and flags were removed and media dispersed to clear the way for take-off.
Spanish jets, based in Lithuania on a NATO mission to police Baltic air space, took off at 0855 GMT after reports that a military jet had taken off from Russia’s Kaliningrad region without filing a flight plan, said a spokesperson for the Lithuanian army’s joint chiefs of staff.
A NATO official said the Eurofighters identified two Russian SU-24 jets heading northeast, which did not file a flight plan, have their transponders turned on or talk to air traffic controllers.
After the take-off, the news conference resumed, and Sanchez thanked the pilots “for the hard work they do to defend the territorial integrity of Lithuania as we just saw.”
There was no danger to Sanchez or Nauseda, the Lithuanian president’s spokesman said.
“This demonstrates once again the importance of NATO’s air policing mission, which has been running for 60 years to keep our skies safe,” said Nato Spokesperson Oana Lungescu.
Seven Spanish Eurofighter jets have been based at Siauliai air base since April 30 for the Baltic air policing mission, which also includes four Italian F-35 aircraft at Estonia’s Amari air base.
The Baltic air police mission routinely follows Russian military aircraft flying over international waters over the Baltic Sea between the Russian mainland and the Kaliningrad enclave. The Russian jets often fly without filing a flight plan.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Inti Landauro in Madrid.; Editing by Peter Graff)