Iceland has complained that Russian air force bombers have been flying too close to civil airliners, the most recent incident involving a flight from Reykjavik, The Guardian reported Tuesday, September 27.
The Icelandic foreign ministry said three Tupolev Tu-160 bombers flew between 1,800-2,700 metres below a plane flying from Reykjavik to Stockholm last Thursday.
The ministry said it “has repeatedly objected to unidentified Russian military flights, due to the danger this may pose to passenger flights” and would be doing so again.
But Aleksei Chadisky, spokesman for the Russian ambassador to Reykjavik, said the danger had been exaggerated. “It is quite understandable that this is how the matter is presented in the local papers. This is an excuse to open the (U.S.) naval base in Keflavik again,” he told the Morgunbladid newspaper.
Earlier this year Washington and Reykjavik signed a deal authorising the occasional return of U.S. forces to Iceland – a NATO member with no military of its own – amid rising tensions with Moscow.
During the second world war the Keflavik military base was an important US base and it remained important to the Nato alliance during the cold war. Its usefulness to the alliance dwindled over the years, prompting Washington to withdraw its armed forces in 2006.
But in the past two years the US military has run surveillance missions in Nato airspace from Icelandic territory. “The old Russian bogey is being brought to life again,” Chadisky said.
Guðni Sigurðsson, spokesman for the Icelandic aviation authority (Isavia), said airline pilots had been alerted to the problem. “This is international airspace so nothing illegal was going on,” he added.
Other Nordic countries have made similar complaints in recent years about Russian military flights that have switched off their transponders: devices that allow radars to identify planes and prevent collisions.
The Icelandic foreign ministry said that in the latest case the transponder failed to transmit the plane’s altitude and speed.