Two American stealth F-22 fighter jets landed in Lithuania on Wednesday in an apparent show of force, after tensions with Moscow flared this month when a Russian aircraft buzzed an American warship in the Baltic Sea.
The US air force’s most advanced planes landed at the Siauliai air base which currently also hosts Spanish jets from NATO’s air policing mission, created to help small Baltic members protect their borders with Russia.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the planes’ brief visit from their base in Britain demonstrated US commitment to defend the region, which keeps a wary eye on the Kremlin’s territorial ambitions.
“It is a signal that the alliance is ready and capable to respond to any kind of threats,” she said at the air base, standing in front of Lithuanian, US and NATO flags.
Asked if that was a message to Russia, the outspoken president responded: “Everyone should abstain from sticking his nose into things here.”
Lithuania and other NATO members formerly behind the Iron Curtain have been rattled by Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where it annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 before pro-Moscow separatists began fighting Kiev’s forces in the country’s east.
Earlier this month, Russian warplanes flew within metres of an American missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea in what the United States called a “simulated attack”.
Days later, a US reconnaissance plane was intercepted by a Russian fighter, prompting NATO to accuse Russia’s military of “unprofessional and unsafe behaviour”.
Russia has denied the actions were provocative and blamed NATO for increasing the risk of conflict by building up its troops in eastern European countries.