Russia Mig-29 2013
MiG-29 jet fighters of the Strizhi (Swifts) and Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters of the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights) aerobatic teams perform near an Orthodox church during a demonstration flight at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky outside Moscow. Reuters

The Finnish Air Force is increasing surveillance of its airspace in light of escalating tensions between Russia and neighboring NATO countries over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, according to a Finnish Air Force commander.

“Military planes in nearby areas east and south of Finland are flying in different ways and in different directions than usual, which is why the Karelian Air Command in Rissala is more alert than usual,” Col. Ossi Sivén, an air force unit commander, told the Finnish daily, Wednesday.

Karelia is a region of eastern Finland on the Russian border. There is also a Russian Republic of Karelia, on the other side of the border, which forms part of the Russian Federation, mostly on land taken by the Soviet Union from Finland in the war of 1939-1940.

Finland, with a long Russian border on its east and just north of the ex-Soviet Baltic States, is adjusting its “readiness” in the face of new potential threats and tensions between Russia and the NATO allies. Traditionally neutral Finland is not a NATO member.

“This means that in a certain direction the radar is being used slightly more than usual and also that the fighter jets that are on duty may operate in somewhat different places and for longer periods of time,” Sivén said.

On Monday, tensions escalated as Russia announced plans to move 24 Sukhoi Su-27 advanced fighters to Belarus by the end of 2014. Belarus is another ex-Soviet state and Russian ally, and borders NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as well as Ukraine.

“The Baltic Sea is part of our sphere of interest and there has been interesting traffic over it,” Sivén said. “Nothing very surprising has happened near our borders, but as more military jets are being deployed, then one should be prepared for the fact that they can be used in a variety of ways.”

Sivén stressed that Russia’s action in Crimea is not aimed at Finland and therefore the public should not worry. On the other hand, he said the defense of Finland’s airspace is critical so that "if something unusual happens then we won’t be asleep at the switch.”