World

Russia threatened to shoot down French flights, defence minister claims

Sebastien Lecornu said Russia was returning to a ‘particularly aggressive’ posture reminiscent of the former Soviet Union.

Sebastien Lecornu accused Russia of being ‘particularly aggressive’
Sebastien Lecornu Sebastien Lecornu accused Russia of being ‘particularly aggressive’ (Aurelien Morissard/AP)

Russian forces threatened to shoot down French flights patrolling international airspace over the Black Sea last month, according to the country’s defence minister.

Sebastien Lecornu did not give specific details about the French flights or aircraft involved in the incident.

He said Russia was returning to a “particularly aggressive” posture reminiscent of the former Soviet Union’s behaviour during the Cold War.

Mr Lecornu told RTL radio: “A month ago, to give you a very concrete example, a Russian air traffic control system threatened to shoot down French aircraft in the Black Sea when we were in a free international zone where we patrol.

“The behaviour of Russia in 2024 bears no relation to what we saw in 2022 and, obviously, before the aggression in Ukraine.

“It is explained by the fact that Russia is in difficulty on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

French military spokesman Colonel Pierre Gaudilliere said Mr Lecornu was referring to an incident in mid-November that involved one of France’s four giant airborne warning and control system (Awacs) surveillance aircraft, describing the incident as unprecedented for a French flight in that region.

“It was a French Awacs” flying over international waters in the Black Sea, Mr Gaudilliere said. “Through a radio exchange, it was threatened by the Russians.”

“It was a particularly aggressive radio exchange,” he added. “It’s a first.”

French air force pilots regularly patrol on the eastern flank of Nato, part of efforts by the 31-nation military alliance to boost its defences since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago.

French flights include long-range patrols by its AWACS surveillance aircraft.

Flying high above the Black Sea coast, they use their powerful radar and other surveillance gear to peer across to the Crimean Peninsula that was seized from Ukraine by Russia, and annexed in 2014.

The surveillance flights can spot missile launches, airborne bombing runs and other military activity in the Ukraine conflict.

Russian pilots have at times made clear that they do not like being watched.

In 2022, a Russian fighter jet released a missile near a British air force RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft that was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea, the UK Government said.

The US Government released video in March 2023 of a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a US Air Force surveillance drone. The drone crashed into the Black Sea.