Viewing cable 05VILNIUS977

05VILNIUS9772005-09-16 13:28:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VILNIUS 000977 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/15/2014 
REF: 04 VILNIUS 845 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Officer Gregory L. Bernsteen for Reasons 1.4(b) 
 and (d) 
¶1. (C) SUMMARY.  A Russian fighter-bomber reportedly en route 
from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad crashed in the Sokiai 
region of Lithuania shortly after 1500 local time on 
September 15.  Lithuanian authorities have detained the pilot 
and are investigating the incident.  The Russian Government 
has apologized and offered compensation for damages. 
Lithuania's Defense Minister pointed to the Russian incursion 
on Lithuanian airspace as justification for maintaining the 
NATO air policing capabilities in the Baltics.  END SUMMARY. 
Lost in Lithuanian Airspace? 
¶2. (SBU) A Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter-bomber crashed in 
Lithuanian territory, September 15.  The plane, which had 
been flying over neutral waters in the Baltic Sea with five 
other Su-27s as escorts for an A-50 remote surveillance and 
reconnaissance plane, left formation and entered Lithuanian 
airspace shortly after 1500.  After approximately six minutes 
of flight within Lithuanian airspace, the pilot ejected and 
the aircraft crashed just east of Jurbarkas, in the Sokiai 
region of Lithuania.  The site is 40 kilometers from the 
Lithuania-Kaliningrad border and about 110 kilometers from 
the Baltic Sea. 
¶3. (SBU) GOL DefMin Gediminas Kirkilas, in a public statement 
issued at 1800 on September 15, said that it appeared the 
Russian aircraft had entered Lithuanian airspace illegally. 
The pilot of the Russian plane told Lithuanian police after 
the crash that his navigation systems had failed and he had 
not known his location.  He said that he had ejected from the 
plane once his fuel ran out.  Police detained the pilot, 
conducted a brief initial interrogation, and took him to a 
nearby hospital for examination.  After examining doctors 
released the pilot, the police took him into custody, 
subsequently transferring him to the Prosecutor General in 
Vilnius for further questioning. 
NATO Air Police - in the air as plane hits ground 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
¶4. (C) Lt. Colonel Arturas Balynas, commander of the Zokniai 
airfield hosting NATO's Baltic air policing mission, told us 
that that his command had been tracking the Russian formation 
over the Baltic and were immediately aware of the intrusion 
into Lithuanian airspace.  Balynas said that the German 
squadron currently based at Zokniai scrambled in response to 
the incursion, but by the time the planes were airborne, the 
Russian Su-27 had crashed.  (NOTE: The NATO standard for 
response is 15 minutes.  According to Balynas, the NATO 
aircraft need seven minutes to lift off.  The United States 
relieves Germany of the air policing function here on October 
1, serving here until the end of December.) 
Aftermath of the Crash 
¶5. (SBU) The GOR has issued a formal apology and agreed to 
pay for any damages on the ground.  GOL officials told us 
that Russia had requested permission to send two helicopters 
from Kaliningrad to recover the aircraft and asked for the 
return of the pilot and the Su-27's black box.  DefMin 
Kirkilas commented that Lithuania would "take its time" in 
handing over the pilot.  The MFA's Director for Security 
Policy, Algis Dabkus, told us the GOL refused entry of the 
¶6. (SBU) Dabkus said the Government had established three 
investigatory commissions.  The first, an interagency group 
that Defense Staff Chief Brig. General Vitalijus Vaiksnoras 
heads, is already looking into what happened and analyzing 
the government response to the crisis.  A second group that 
the Chief of Defense General Valdas Tutkus has convened will 
consider the larger questions of air policing and NATO 
security policy in the Baltics.  Air Force Chief Jonas 
Marcinkus's third commission will investigate the military 
implications.  Dabkus said that Russia may participate in 
some of these investigations down the road. 
Russian Air Incursions Nothing New 
¶7. (C) Russian violations of Lithuanian airspace are nothing 
new, although this is the first crash of an errant aircraft 
of which we are aware.  Russian and Belarusian aircraft 
frequently cross into Baltic airspace without permission, 
with over 5,000 recorded violations in Lithuania alone since 
1992 (reftel).  Kirkilas commented to the press that this 
most recent incursion underscores why Lithuania and the 
Baltics have a continued need for long-term NATO air 
¶8. (C) COMMENT.  Lithuanians who continue to worry about 
Russian plans to exert influence over the Baltics point to 
airspace incursions as demonstrable evidence of GOR bad will. 
 The crash of a Russian fighter well inside Lithuanian 
territory will reinforce Lithuania's fears regarding national 
security and defense.  The crash will also add one more layer 
of complication to the GOL-Russia relationship.  The incident 
will likely strengthen the GOL's determination to maintain 
NATO's air-policing mission in the Baltics over the long 
¶9.  (C) The GOL's confidence in dealing with this difficult 
situation is striking.  When we first heard the news, we 
expected urgent calls for guidance from the GOL, but they 
never came.  Instead, GOL ministries and the military swung 
into action on the diplomatic, security, and technical 
fronts.  The Lithuanians also appear to be handling the 
Russians without allowing the situation to escalate.