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Europe

Moscow fury over Swiss jet’s close call with Russian plane

© AFP / Paul Crock | An F-18 fighter jet, the same type of aircraft involved in what Moscow alleges was a near miss with a passenger craft on Monday, October 19, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-10-20

Russia reacted with fury Monday after a Swiss warplane flew "dangerously close" to one of its passenger jets carrying a senior parliamentary delegation, having earlier caused a diplomatic spat by mistakenly blaming France for the incident.

The incident, which took place on Monday morning, saw a Swiss F-18 warplane approach a Russian plane carrying a parliamentary delegation headed by Russian State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin to a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Swiss defence ministry spokesman Peter Minder told AFP the incident had taken place in Swiss airspace over the city of Bienne, also called Biel or Bienna. However, he denied Switzerland had breached any air safety rules.

"It was a normal check by the Swiss air force... a close check," he said.

"We made visual contact with the pilot and noted the registration. Everything was in order. It was a verification, a routine check."

But Moscow was left unimpressed by the incident and has demanded an explanation from Switzerland.

"We have to work out what happened and why it was done," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments.

Naryshkin, who is on both the EU and US blacklists for publicly supporting the deployment of Russian forces to Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, told Russian agencies he was aware of what happened although he did not see the warplane himself.

Sergei Gavrilov, another delegation member, told TASS news agency that the approach took place "at the altitude of 3,700 metres (12,100 feet) above the Swiss border" and called it an "unfriendly act by NATO".

Switzerland is a neutral country and is not a member of the North Atlantic alliance (NATO).

French anger after ambassador summoned

The Russian foreign ministry had initially blamed France for the incident, with the foreign ministry in Moscow saying it had summoned French envoy Jean-Maurice Ripert to "give an explanation".

"The ambassador was made aware of Russia's deep concern over what happened," it said.

"Actions like these by Paris undermine the possibility of using France as a place for multilateral meetings and talks."

Yevgenia Chugunova, spokeswoman for the Russian speaker Naryshkin, told AFP that the warplane was French.

"I can confirm that this incident involving a French military plane happened this morning," she said. "We saw it very close."

But after France rebuffed the claim, Russia was forced into an apology.

"We deplore that the French ambassador in Moscow was called in instantly," the French defence and foreign affairs ministry said. "The necessary explanations have been handed on to the Russian authorities."

The Russian foreign ministry later confirmed that Moscow had apologised to Paris through diplomatic channels.

Geneva’s airport is very close to Switzerland’s border with France, which may have led to confusion about whose airspace the Russian aircraft was in and the jet’s nationality.

There has been an uptick in the number of near-miss type incidents involving NATO and Russian military aircraft since separatist conflict, which the West accuses Russia of stoking, broke out in Ukraine.

NATO member states have accused Russian military jets in particular of flying dangerously close to Western military and civilian aircraft on numerous occasions. Moscow has denied breaking any aviation rules.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-10-20

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