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Romania scrambles fighter jets to intercept suspicious weather balloon detected at 36,000ft in its airspace amid China-US spy balloon row
- Two MiG 21 LanceR jets were scrambled to the area 10 minutes after the sighting
- However, after 30 minutes in the area, pilots were unable to make a visual
Romania scrambled fighter jets today to intercept a suspicious weather balloon in its airspace, amid the on-going China-US spy balloon row.
The country said its air force’s surveillance system detected an aerial object flying at an altitude of 36,000ft to the area in south-east Romania.
Two MiG 21 LanceR jets were scrambled to the area 10 minutes after the sighting, but could not confirm the object’s presence, the ministry said.
The defence ministry said the crews of the aircraft stayed in the area for 30 minutes before returning to base after not getting visual, or radar confirmation, of the target.
The sighting in Romania comes amidst a diplomatic spat between the United States and China after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon on February 4.
Romania scrambled fighter jets today to intercept a suspicious weather balloon in its airspace, amid the on-going China-US spy balloon row. Pictured: A Romanian air force MIG-21 LancR performs during the International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in 2019 (file photo). Two of the planes were sent to search for the balloon on Tuesday, but could not make a visual
The sighting in Romania also occurred on the same day that Moldova, which borders Romania and Ukraine, briefly closed its air space for undisclosed safety reasons, although the Romanian ministry did not link the events in its statement.
Tuesday also saw the Netherlands scramble two fighter jets to intercept three Russian military planes that entered NATO ally Poland’s airspace.
Tensions in Europe are high amid Russia’s on-going invasion of Ukraine, with the spillover of the conflict affecting those that are closer to the embattled nation in particular. Like Poland, Romania is a NATO member, while Moldova is not.
Last week, Romania denied Russian missiles crossed its airspace on their way to Ukraine after Moscow unleashed a barrage of missile strikes on Ukraine.
Ukraine’s army chief Valery Zaluzhny said two Russian missiles crossed the airspace of ex-Soviet Moldova and Romania on their way to Ukraine.
Romania’s defence ministry said it detected an ‘aerial target launched from the Black Sea from a ship of the Russian Federation’ but ‘at no point did it intersect with Romania’s airspace’.
The Moldovan defence ministry said it detected a missile, confirming it ‘crossed the airspace of Moldova.’
Moldova, which has already seen debris of Russian missiles during the war, said it would summon Russia’s ambassador over the incident.
The sighting in Romania comes amidst a diplomatic spat between the United States and China after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon on February 4 (pictured)
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But tensions between Moldova and Russia ratcheted up further this week.
On Tuesday, the country closed its airspace for over two hours citing safety and security reasons, authorities said.
The development came a day after Moldova’s president Maia Sandu accused Russia of plotting to violently overthrow the country’s pro-European leadership with the help of saboteurs disguised as anti-government protesters.
‘Moldova’s airspace was temporarily closed at 11:24 am (0924 GMT), 14 February, in order to assure the safety and security of civil aviation,’ Moldova’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a press release. ‘At 14:47 pm (1247 GMT) the airspace was re-opened,’ it added, without giving further details.
The country’s national airline had also said earlier Tuesday that Moldova’s airspace was closed.
A Moldovan newspaper reported that ‘a foreign drone’ was ‘flying without permission’. Another suggested saboteurs were travelling disguised as football fans from Serbia, ahead of a Europe League football match between FC Sheriff and Partizan Belgrade, scheduled for Thursday.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky last week told a EU summit that Kyiv had ‘intercepted the plan for the destruction of Moldova by Russian intelligence’.
Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday denied Moldova’s accusations as ‘completely unfounded and unsubstantiated’.
Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people wedged between Romania and Ukraine, received EU candidate status in the summer of 2022, but over the past year has been faced with numerous anti-government protests.
Over the past year, the war in neighbouring Ukraine has repeatedly caused multiple security concerns in the pro-European country as debris from Russian missiles landed on Moldovan territory after traversing its skies.
Moldova also suffered energy blackouts after Ukraine stopped exporting electricity because of Russian airstrikes on critical infrastructure.
Romania’s balloon citing came as a diplomatic rift between the US and China deepened, with Beijing accusing Washington of flying high-altitude balloons into its airspace, as the American military examined debris of a suspected Chinese spy balloon it downed this month.
The Chinese balloon, which Beijing denies was a spy vessel, spent a week flying over the United States and Canada before President Joe Biden ordered it shot on Feb. 4. The U.S. military has since carried out three more shootdowns as it combs the skies for objects that were not being captured by radar.
The White House said on Tuesday it was still searching for debris from the most recent, unmanned objects, and had not seen any indication they were part of China’s spy program. But they exposed Washington’s heightened sense of alert as the standoff over the balloon delays efforts to reset bilateral relations.
China says the balloon shot down on Feb. 4 was a civilian weather-monitoring aircraft. It has accused Washington of sending its own balloons into Chinese airspace, an allegation Beijing reiterated on Tuesday.
Romania’s balloon citing came as a diplomatic rift between the US and China deepened, with Beijing accusing Washington of flying high-altitude balloons into its airspace, as the American military examined debris of a suspected Chinese spy balloon it downed this month
U.S. balloons ‘flew around the world and illegally entered the airspaces of China and other relevant countries at least ten times’ since May 2022, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
Wang did not provide details on the other countries involved, declined to specify which parts of Chinese airspace the incursions happened or provide photos as evidence.
The White House has disputed China’s allegations. Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, tweeted on Monday: ‘Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false.’
Washington has imposed sanctions on six Chinese entities it says are tied to the balloon, an action which drew criticism from Beijing on Tuesday. But there are some signs the two countries are still seeking to inject stability into turbulent relations.
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