UK Says Its Air Force Intercepted 50 Russian Planes Over Estonia in Four Months

The British were leading NATO's air policing on Russia's border but handed it over to the Spanish Air Force

The Times of London reported Thursday that the British Royal Air Force intercepted 50 Russian planes over Estonia in the past four months while it led NATO’s air policing mission on Russia’s border.

The skies in the Baltic region of Europe have become a potential flashpoint for a direct conflict between NATO and Russia as their aircraft have had frequent encounters, demonstrating the risks of NATO expansion up to the Russian border. British officials said there’s been a “significant” increase in Russian military flights in the area since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Hundreds of RAF pilots and personnel have spent months away from their families, working round the clock alongside our allies to keep Europe’s skies safe,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said. The RAF had been leading the NATO mission since March and has now handed it off to the Spanish Air Force.

CIA Map of Estonia

“The UK’s successful leadership of NATO’s air-policing mission in Estonia, resulting in the interception of dozens of Russian aircraft by the RAF, sends a strong message to Putin that we stand united with our allies against any threat to our borders,” Wallace said.

Another potential flashpoint for a NATO-Russia conflict is in the Black Sea, where US and NATO aircraft frequently fly reconnaissance. In March, a US MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed after an encounter with Russian fighter jets. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently announced that the alliance plans to increase air patrols in the Black Sea.

There have also been close encounters between US and Russian aircraft over Syria, with both sides accusing the other of aggressive action. US officials claimed last week that two US drones were struck with flares dropped by Russian jets in separate incidents.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.