Looking at the news today on the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey and I am wondering...

Prior to this, has there ever been a direct clash between NATO and Russia? Proxy wars don't count, I am talking only between fighting units operating openly under NATO or Russian flags.

  • 3
    Coincidentally, and sadly, it appears that your question has been answered in today's news cbc.ca/news/world/turkey-military-plane-1.3332171
    – Doug B
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:30
  • Yes, read the first line of my question. I am asking because of today's news about the downing of the Russion fighter jet by NATO. Nov 24, 2015 at 14:31
  • The Berlin Airlift 1948-9 was probably as close as it got - when the USSR blockaded Berlin. Over the course of less than a year, the USAF and RAF together delivered 2.2 million tons of supplies by air - two-thirds of it coal - to the people of Berlin. 17 US and 8 British planes crashed in the process and 101 fatalities were recorded (mostly non-flying accidents).
    – WS2
    Apr 11, 2021 at 18:52

4 Answers 4


Under the banner of NATO, not that I'm aware of.

However the forces of NATO nations under UN command have fought directly against Russian forces in the Korean War - specifically pilots flying MiG-15's against mostly American air forces.

There have also been a number of incidents similar to today's shooting down of a Russian aircraft: see here for details of the US-USSR shooting down a variety of each others' aircraft between 1950 and 1970


Note that this link is only describing USA-USSR interactions (not post-USSR Russia nor other non-US NATO members), in a specific timeframe (1950-1970), and only counts incidents where one aircraft was shot down by another aircraft (so doesn't include aircraft shot down from the ground, or any other land or sea incidents).

I don't know off the top of my head if there are other incidents of any type. I would assume there were border tensions around the Berlin Wall (/Inner German Border) and other borders which probably let to some level of clashes at various stages, and there have almost certainly been incidents between submarines that we never hear full details of.

  • So today's event could be the first since 1970. Nov 24, 2015 at 14:40
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    I couldn't tell you off the top of my head but I highly doubt it. That link is only the USA-USSR interactions (not post-USSR Russia nor other non-US NATO members), in a specific timeframe, and only counts incidents where one aircraft was shot down by another aircraft (so doesn't include aircraft shot down from the ground, or any other land or sea incidents)
    – Jon Story
    Nov 24, 2015 at 14:43
  • Good one. I'd thought the Chinese took the lead in that war, so I didn't look into USSR involvement.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 24, 2015 at 14:45
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    There were many times during the Cold War when tensions were extremely high, perhaps none more so than at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. But there was the overrunning of Hungary by the Soviets in 1956 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But perhaps the incident which most closely resembled a war situation was the Berlin Airlift of 1948.
    – WS2
    Nov 25, 2015 at 21:44
  • The Soviet pilots in Korea were not under Soviet flag.
    – Anixx
    Nov 26, 2015 at 3:32

The Incident at Pristina Airport, 12 June 1999, following the war in Kosovo, was a direct stand-off between NATO and the Russian Federation. Despite a desire (and order) for engaging in combat by SACEUR Wesley Clark,the incident passed without bloodshed allegedly after some strategic insubordination by now-crooner James Blunt.

  • Was that just a stand-off though? Did anything get blown up or anyone killed? Was there an actual fight? Nov 25, 2015 at 15:06
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    @user2800708 No, no fighting took place because the orders were not followed for fear of sparking a larger conflict. Clark was relieved of his post following the incident though.
    – James
    Nov 25, 2015 at 15:32

If simple shooting down of a plane counts, then one thing that immediately springs to mind is the shooting down of the U-2 spy plane over Russian territory in 1960.

The main point of difference is that the pilot in that incident was not part of the US military, and it was not an operation for a military service. Considering that he was former military, and was working for the US government, that's not much of a fig leaf to hide behind though.

There were some rumors of other military confrontations I've heard of before. Missing subs that were said to have collided with opposing subs. There was a rumor that the KAL airliner shot down by the USSR in 1983 was being shadowed by a US military plane, and that was the true target of the missile. Its possible (even likely) all the rumors are false, but if one were true, both sides denying it would be the best way to avoid a cycle of escalation.


In 1960 a US plane has been shot down in the Soviet air space: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960_U-2_incident

  • that was not a military aircraft. It was a civilian aircraft owned and operated by the CIA, a civilian agency.
    – jwenting
    Nov 27, 2015 at 7:30

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