Air incident concerns understandable but overblown says Finland’s defence chief

Finnish Chief of Defence Ari Puheloinen has sought to play down an incident earlier this week, in which two Russian aircraft strayed into Finnish air space.

Puheloinen said that in peace time there’s no need to worry about foreign aircraft opening fire.

Head of the Finnish Defence Force Ari Puheloinen said that the national concern over Tuesday’s air space incursions by Russian aircraft are understandable. At the time the Russian planes flew into Finnish skies twice.

Speaking on Yle’s Ykkösammu discussion programme Saturday Puheloinen added that these concerns were understandable give the crisis in Ukraine, and in which Russia is playing a controversial role.

In spite of those concerns the defence chief says it would be wise not to exaggerate the incident. At the same time, Puheloinen noted that the Russian planes strayed up to 30 kilometres over the border.

“That’s more than usual,” he added.

“When we get the investigative material we will be able to draw conclusions, find out what air traffic controllers said to the craft when they entered the air space and what the outcome was. These are the factors that will form the basis for conclusions,” Puheloinen explained.

Previous violations accidental

The defence chief stressed that at the moment however, there are no facts to support the idea that the air space violations were deliberate. He added that previous incidents in the past were clearly accidental and caused by the narrowness of the air corridor between the two countries.

He also said that it is quite possible that the pilots were trying to avoid a storm front, something that has also happened in the past.

At Easter time Sweden came in for some knocks when its air force failed to react to Russian aerial exercises held nearby. The Swedes reportedly weren’t able to scramble any jets for reconnaissance flights. Puheloinen said he preferred not to comment on Finland’s air readiness.

“If a plane from a neighbouring country approaches during peace time, the primary assumption can’t be that it is violating national borders and intends to open fire. I’m sure this was also the case in Sweden. However if international tensions rise, we will step up readiness and the reaction threshold becomes lower,” Puheloinen added.

He concluded by pointing out that Finland’s reaction time tends to shorten when military exercises take place in nearby regions.

Related stories from around the Arctic:

Canada: Will Russia’s actions in Ukraine affect relations in the Arctic Council?, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Ex-President Ahtisaari calls on Finland to join NATO with Sweden, Yle News

Norway:  Nordics rethink security after Ukraine crisis, Yle News

Sweden: Sweden providing jets to NATO, Radio Sweden

Russia:  Blog – Russia puts countries on edge in the Arctic, Cryopolitics

United States: Can an aggressive Russia remain U.S.’s nice Arctic neighbor?, APRN

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