The Russian Embassy to Switzerland demanded an official explanation on Saturday for why the Swiss Air Force dispatched three fighter jets to escort a Russian government aircraft.
The official Russian passenger Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft was carrying journalists to cover the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic summit, held in Lima, Peru, when three military jets suddenly appeared to accompany it while it flew through Swiss airspace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to take part in the South American-based event, but he was not aboard the aircraft in question.
The embassy said in a statement posted on Twitter that it was bewildered by the military escort on Friday and wanted some clarification from Swiss officials. The tweet includes a photo of a fighter jet off the wing of a Russian plane in Swiss air space.
The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement on Twitter, also said it was seeking answers.
Jürg Nussbaum, a spokesman for the Swiss Air Force, said the escort and inspection of the Russian aircraft essentially was a routine maneuver by the Air Force’s FA/18 combat aircraft “as is often done during the flying of foreign state aircraft", Swiss tabloid Blick reported.
The Swiss Defence Ministry told Reuters that such checks were conducted around 400 times a year to double-check the identity of planes belonging to foreign governments.
"It's like police patrols in the street checking a car to make sure it wasn't stolen," a spokesman said.
A close one
Andrey Kolesnikov, editor-in-chief of the Russian Pioneer magazine, described the experience in a Facebook post. "We are flying to Peru, to APEC CEO summit […] Flying through Switzerland. At some point, the plane with the delegation and the journalists is blocked from three sides by three fighter jets. […] These are fighter jets of the Swiss Air Force."
He also expressed resentment that the Swiss fighters flew close enough to be what he considered a threat to the flight; he said he could see the pilot’s faces and the aircraft ID numbers.
Another journalist, Dmitry Smirnov, posted a video of the incident on Facebook and wondered whether it was a dangerous incident.
Later, he posted several updates. The Russian plane had landed at a military base in Lisbon, Portugal, he said, and after refueling, it was clear that something was wrong with the engine.
Eventually, he showed a photo of the end of the journey: the journalists were put in a new plane, which landed on the tarmac in Lima.
In July, two fighter jets of the Swiss air force intercepted an Israeli El Al airliner near Schaffhausen due to an anonymous bomb threat, authorities said.
The F/A 18 jets had to break the sound barrier while reacting quickly to catch the airliner on a flight that originated from New York's John F Kennedy airport in the United States, according to Schaffhausen police and Skyguide, the Swiss-based air traffic controllers.
The airliner later landed safely and on schedule at midday in Tel Aviv, Israeli media reported. No bomb was found.
swissinfo.ch and agencies