Spanish and Lithuanian Leaders’ Press Conference Interrupted By Aircraft Scramble

A livestreamed press conference jointly held by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda at Lithuania’s Šiauliai air base was interrupted on Thursday morning, after the Spanish Eurofighter the leaders were speaking in front of needed to be scrambled to intercept Russian aircraft launched from Kaliningrad.

Sánchez had been visiting Spanish Air Force personnel deployed to the air base for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. Nausėda was in the middle of a speech when ground crew and the aircraft’s pilot began preparing the Eurofighter for takeoff following the order for an “alpha scramble”, removing both leaders’ lecterns from the hangar. 

The press conference continued 25 minutes later, with Nausėda saying that the scramble was a demonstration that “everything works perfectly” with Baltic Air Policing, saying that he could confirm that the Spanish Eurofighters were airborne within 15 minutes of the scramble order. Sánchez added that the scramble was “a real case that shows the importance of our presence here”. Following the press conference, Nausėda said on social media that he “witnessed allied solidarity in action today”, thanking Spain for its commitment to Lithuania’s security.

According to the Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense, two Russian aircraft had been detected flying from Kaliningrad towards the Russian mainland through international airspace over the Baltic Sea during the press conference. The alpha scramble was ordered as the Russian aircraft did not have any flight plans filed, did not have their radar transponders activated and failed to respond to radio communications from the regional air traffic control center.

Sánchez has been on a working visit to the Baltics since Tuesday, and met with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė in Vilnius following the air base visit. Also on his agenda is a meeting with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whose office in Vilnius received Lithuanian diplomatic accreditation on Monday. Spanish defense officials that spoke to El Pais suspect that the Russian flight was deliberately timed to coincide with Sanchez’ visit, as there had been no scrambles for the previous 18 days.