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ACCIDENT

Lithuanian and French NATO aircraft collide

Lithuanian and French NATO military jets collided on Monday in mid-air during a patrol over the Baltic state but the pilots escaped unhurt, an official told AFP.

“An L-39 Lithuanian military plane collided with a French Mirage jet in the air. The two Lithuanian pilots ejected successfully and were found uninjured,” Ieva Gulbiniene, the assistant commander at the Siauliai air base where a NATO air mission is policing the Baltic, told AFP.  

“The French military plane landed successfully,” she said, adding “the Lithuanian plane has been located.”  

As all three EU and NATO Baltic states lack the capability to patrol their own airspace, NATO warplanes from various member states including France have provided assistance, which the alliance has mandated through to 2014.  

“We regret this incident. We do not know all the circumstances, an investigation has started. We can only state with relief that casualties were avoided. Unfortunately, incidents like this sometimes happen,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius told journalists on Tuesday.  

“The French embassy is in direct contact with the Lithuanian authorities to learn about the exact circumstances of the collision between a Mirage-2000 from the French detachment and one of Lithuania’s L-39 jets,” the French embassy in the capital Vilnius said on Tuesday.  

“The French aircraft, although damaged, was able to land at the Siauliai base,” it added.  

Lithuania and its fellow Baltic republics Latvia and Estonia, which won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, joined NATO as well as the European Union in 2004.  

The trio, with a total population of 6.8 million and a professional military of 20,500, have rocky relations with their former master Russia, which only withdrew its troops from their territories in 1994.

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RUSSIA

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia

A senior French military officer stationed at a NATO base has been indicted and jailed on suspicion of spying for Russia, local media and sources said on Sunday.

Senior French officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia
A change of command ceremony at the base of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in Sigonella, Italy. It is not known at which Italian Nato base the officer was stationed. Photo: Falk Plankenhorn
The French army officer was stationed abroad, a judicial source said confirming details from Europe 1 radio. According to the report, the soldier was stationed on a NATO base in Italy and is suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia.
   
The French government confirmed it was investigating a senior military officer over a “security breach”.
   
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told Europe 1 radio, CNews and Les Echos newspaper. She gave no further details.
   
The judicial source said the officer had been indicted and jailed on charges involving “intelligence with a foreign power that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation”.
   
He is being prosecuted for “delivering information to a foreign power”, “collecting information harming the fundamental interests of the nation with a view to delivering them to a foreign power” and “compromising the secrecy of national defence”, the source said.
 
   
Europe 1 said the officer was a lieutenant-colonel stationed with NATO in Italy and had been placed under investigation on suspicion of spying for Russia.
   
He speaks Russian and was seen in Italy with a man identified as an agent of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence
service, the report said. It said he is suspected of having supplied sensitive documents to Russian intelligence.
   
The man was arrested by DGSI intelligence service as he was about to leave for Italy at the end of his holidays in France, and is being held at a prison in Paris, Europe 1 said.
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