French Chief of the Defense Staff announced the interception of several Russian aircraft that were shadowing aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in Eastern Mediterranean.
“Over the past few days [there were] interactions of French CSG [carrier strike group – AeroTime], deployed in MEDOR [Eastern Medditerranean – AeroTime] for Operation Chammal CJTFOIR with Russian aircraft that were detected as soon as they took off from Latakia and were continuously monitored by units of the French CSG,” the Twitter account of the French Military tweeted on February 19, 2022, along with black-and-white photos of Russian aircraft in flight.
Au cours des derniers jours, interactions du @French_CSG , déployé en MEDOR pour #Chammal @CJTFOIR, avec des aéronefs russes, qui ont été détectés dès leur décollage de Lattaquié puis suivis en permanence par les unités du @French_CSG . pic.twitter.com/sEy7igkTzs— Armée française – Opérations militaires (@EtatMajorFR) February 19, 2022
The aircraft in the photos can be identified as a Tupolev Tu-22M strategic bomber and two Sukhoi Su-30 or Su-35 fighter jets. Another flight group composed of a Ilyushin Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft and its Su-30/35 escort was also intercepted by the Rafale Marine fighters on February 18, 2022.
Charles de Gaulle is deployed in the Mediterranean as a part of Operation Chammal, the French portion of Operation Inherent Resolve, intended to curtail the resurgence of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The French military has previously noted that interception and monitoring of their activity by Russian forces have restrictive effect on the operation. According to a French Parliamentary report published on February 17, 2022, Russian forces pose “a real challenge” to the French deployment. While the report notes that such interactions so far have been of “professional” character, this was not always the case when it came to the earlier interactions of the French allies – primarily the United Kingdom and the United States – with Russian forces.
While the French military presented the interception of the Tu-22M and its escort fighters as a regular mission, Russian media has published a different interpretation of the events.
On February 20, 2022, Russian aviation news website Avia.pro published an article called “French fighters tried to intercept Russian Tu-22M3 bombers”. According to the article, “A group of French fighter jets from a French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle tried to stage a provocation and intercept Russian strategic bombers Tu-22M3 that flew over Mediterranean Sea with an armament of Kh-32 anti-shipping missiles.”
Avia.pro claims that the Su-35S fighters remained invisible to the French jets because the Russian aircraft “may have used their electronic warfare systems or remained hidden behind the bombers.” As soon as the escort was visually identified, the French pilots “refused to come closer,” the article alleges.
Avia.pro does not provide the source of the information, however, their version of the events received a wide coverage in the Russian media, with some outlets adding such details as the French pilots “breaking an international law” by attempting to intercept the bomber and Russian aircraft completely disabling the electronics of the French planes.
Confrontations between Russian and French forces became increasingly frequent with the rise of tensions in Ukraine. In December 2021, on several occasions, French aircraft were intercepted by Russian fighters while they were carrying out observation missions over the Black Sea.