On Friday, December 12, a Russian military jet has allegedly been involved in a near-mid-air- collision with a civilian airliner in Swedish airspace. Scandinavian and Russian officials have since been engaged in a barrage of claims and counterclaims. Some Scandinavian media provide detailed and sensationalized reports. Calls to Copenhagen Airport and the Danish and Swedish air traffic controllers led to the conclusion that these reports, in the absence of evidence, must be considered as being fabricated. Are some Scandinavian journalists and media complicit in a NATO propaganda campaign aimed at implementing a no fly zone for Russian military planes over the Baltic to further encircle Russia?
The Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hulquist responded to the alleged near-mid-air-collision on Swedish television. Hulquist accused the Russian Air Force for an alleged near-mid-air collision with a civilian airliner that had entered Swedish airspace immediately after takeoff from Kastrup airport, located near the Danish capital Copenhagen. Finland’s Transportation Minister Paula Risikko told Finland’s news agency STT on Sunday, that there was a need to discuss the Russian military planes and air safety over the Baltic. Hulquist would add that the Swedish Air Force has identified the Russian jet.
The Swedish daily Aftonbladed would quote the Swedish flight-leader and press spokesman Roland Sandelin as saying that the Russian plane was near invisible because it had turned off its transponder and that this suggested “secretiveness”. Denmark’s television channel TV-2 would quote Swedish Air Force Chief Micael Bydén as saying that the two planes would have come pretty close to each other had one of them not changed course. TV-2 would publish a sensationalized report on the TV-channel’s website, claiming that there were no more than 90 meters separation between a Scandinavian Airlines SAS jet and the Russian military jet.
The spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov refuted the allegations. The Russian Tass news agency quoted Konashenkov as saying: “No prerequisites existed for an accident related to the flight of a Russian war-plane in the international airspace over the Baltic Sea on Friday, December 12. .. The flight was strictly in compliance with international air space rules, not violating borders of other countries and at a safe distance from traffic routes of civilian aircraft. … Flights of NATO war-planes which have become more than threefold more intensive in the last few months are always made with switched-off transponder.” Later Russian reports would add that a NATO surveillance aircraft had flown between the civilian airliner and the Russian military jet.
Fabrication vs Investigation. In the absence of any evidence for media reports like the TV-2 report that alleged that there only were 90 meters separation, one could suspect that the report was fabricated, sensationalized journalism or propaganda.
The press office at Kastrup airport stated that they could not provide any information about the alleged incident and referred to NAVI AIR, which controls Danish airspace. The press spokesperson for NAVI air said that they didn’t have any information because the plane left Danish airspace and entered Swedish airspace immediately after takeoff. Kastrup airport is located at the coast, no more than 18 kilometers from the Swedish coastal town Malmø. Planes regularly leave Danish airspace immediately after takeoff. NAVI AIR could, however, not even tell which flight allegedly had been involved, from what airline, and when the civilian airliner took off. Instead, NAVI AIR referred to its Swedish counterpart Luftfartsvärket (LFV).
On Sunday, December 14, LFV press officer Per Fröberg could not identify the passenger jet’s flight number, tell the time of departure nor provide any other information other than that the incident had happened at about noon on Friday. When Fröberg was asked for his opinion about sensationalized reports in Scandinavian media he asserted that LFV hadn’t provided any information to other media, other than the information he provided to the author, who called on behalf of nsnbc international and New Eastern Outlook.
Asked whether LFV could release radar data to the newspaper Fröberg replied that LFV would not provide any further information to the public yet, so as “to avoid speculation”. He added that LFV was currently gathering all necessary data to launch an internal investigation which could take five to six weeks. Asked whether LFV would make the radar data available to the press after the investigation was concluded, Fröberg replied that it “depends on the outcome of the investigation” and that it was too early to tell.
It is noteworthy that the alleged near-mid-air collision incident comes against the backdrop of NATO’s increased presence in Poland, the Baltic and the Scandinavian countries as well as NATO’s eastwards expansion in Ukraine. Earlier this year NATO decided to increase its patrol flights over the Baltic. Considering the strategic vulnerability of Russia’s port and naval base in Kaliningrad, Russia has, much to the discomfort of the Scandinavian countries and NATO, increased its air patrols too. The political tensions and the strategic posturing does, indeed, pose an increased risk to civilian air-traffic in the region. Sensationalized reports about “invisible planes” and “no more than 90 meters separation” appear to be fabricated propaganda aimed at creating the political context for the implementation of a no fly zone for Russian military planes over the Baltic in violation of international law.
It is noteworthy that media as well as journalists, arguably, can be held personally and legally accountable for spreading propaganda, especially in a conflict situation. Contemporary NATO military doctrine considers absolute image and information control as an essential part of modern warfare.
The spreading of disinformation in a conflict situation is, however, considered a serious crime and violates UN General Assembly Resolutions 110, 381, and 819 as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The three UN General Assembly Resolutions were adopted in response to the consequences of war propaganda during WW II. Arguably, journalists who are involved in the dissemination of “90 meters separation only” propaganda can be held accountable under the Nuremberg Principles.
Dr. Christof Lehmann an independent political consultant on conflict and conflict resolution and the founder and editor in chief of nsnbc, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.