Colombia Accuses Russia of Invading Its Airspace

Dmitry A. Mottl/Wikimedia
Dmitry A. Mottl/Wikimedia

The government of Colombia issued a formal note of protest to Russia’s ambassador to Colombia, Nikolai Tavdumadze, on Monday after a Russian aircraft allegedly violated Colombia’s airspace.

“On behalf of the government [of Colombia], the Foreign Ministry sent an official note to the Russian Ambassador to Bogota, in which it expressed strong protest over the situation with a Russian plane that violated Colombia’s airspace on April 19,” Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum said in a statement on April 19.

“Ambassador Tavdumadze was informed of the importance of a quick response from the Russian government that would guarantee that serious and systematic violations of Colombia’s airspace will not repeat themselves,” Blum said.

Tavdumadze confirmed to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency on April 20 that “he was summoned by the Colombian Foreign Ministry for a discussion with the minister” over the matter.

The Colombian Air Force (FAC) said on Monday it had sent a team to intercept a Russian Il-96 plane violating Colombia’s sovereign airspace. While the Russian aircraft had a permit to fly over Colombian territory, it reportedly entered the nation’s airspace “through a different zone than that allowed,” the FAC said in a statement on April 19.

“The [Russian] aircraft was intercepted entering Colombian airspace by Kfir air superiority aircraft, who ordered its immediate departure, an order that was followed by the Russian state aircraft,” according to the FAC.

“The incident occurred today [April 19] … when the Illyushin II-96-400 VPU aircraft of the Russian Government was detected, coming from Moscow, which had overflight permit 0354/21, which established entry to airspace Colombian by coordinates (…) north of La Guajira, outside the continental territory, ” the FAC statement read.

“However, the National Air Defense System detected that the aircraft entered from a ‘different position than the authorized one,’ in response to which the Air Force Command and Control Center sent Kfir aircraft to the area, ‘in accordance with the procedures of aerial interdiction,'” Deutsche Welle (DW)’s Latin America bureau reported on April 19.

The FAC noted on Monday that Russian aircraft have previously violated Colombia’s airspace on several occasions, most recently on July 21, 2020. The Colombian Air Force further recalled that two Russian-made Tupolev Tu-160 bombers violated Colombia’s airspace on two separate occasions during the fall of 2013 while flying from Venezuela to Nicaragua. DW cited an unverified report by the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo on Monday indicating that the Russian aircraft found violating Colombia’s airspace on April 19 may have been flying from Venezuela to Nicaragua.

Moscow has offered Caracas at least $17 billion in loans and credit lines since 2006 in part to help Venezuela purchase Russian weapons. Nicaragua has purchased significant amounts of Russian military equipment in recent years as well. Russia has also invested billions of dollars in the Venezuelan oil sector. Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer, has stakes in a number of oil projects in Venezuela.

“Total oil production from those projects was 8 million tons in 2017, or 161,000 barrels per day,” according to Reuters. The news agency described Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin as “a frequent visitor to Venezuela” in 2019.

Venezuela and Colombia’s bilateral relationship has long been fraught with simmering geopolitical tension. Relations between the two neighbors frayed in September 2019 after former guerilla members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) “announced a rearmament in a video that Colombian authorities believe was filmed in Venezuela, spurring concern of a worsening of the Colombian armed conflict and expansion of armed groups in Venezuela,” Reuters reported at the time.

“I’ve ordered the strategic operations commander of the Bolivarian Armed Forces and all the military units on the border to declare an alert … in the face of the threatened aggression by Colombia toward Venezuela,” Maduro said in a televised broadcast. Colombia interpreted the Venezuelan leader’s statement as a threat of attack, though the two sides did not engage in battle at the time.

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