SPANISH Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was forced to cut short a press conference at a NATO airbase in Lithuania when jets there were scrambled to intercept Russian warplanes.

Sanchez and Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda were speaking to reporters at an air force base, which hosts air policing fighter jets from various NATO member states, when the incident occurred on Thursday morning.

Two Spanish fighters were ordered to intercept two Russian Su-24 jets flying over the international waters of the Baltic Sea.

“This justifies the presence of Spanish forces in Lithuania,” Sanchez said when the press conference resumed.

The Russian jets took off from the nearby Russian region of  Kaliningrad and had their onboard transponders switched off, a  Lithuanian military defence spokesman told AFP news agency.

The pilots did not present the flight plan and did not maintain radio communications with the regional traffic control centre, the spokesman added. 

Such incidents happen several times a week in the Baltic sea.

NATO has had a military air presence in the Baltic since 2004, when the formerly Soviet-ruled Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the defence alliance but lacked the jets to guard their own airspace.

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