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27 Feb, 2009 21:52

Canadians intercept Russian bomber ahead of Obama’s visit

Canada's Defense Minister has acknowledged that his country's fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian bomber over the Arctic just prior to a visit from U.S. President Barack Obama.

“The Russian aircraft was approaching Canadian airspace and, as they have done on previous occasions, [Canadian pilots] sent very clear signals that were understood: that aircraft was to turn tail and head back to its own airspace. Which it did,” Defense Minister Peter MacKay said.

According to the Canadian minister, the long-range Russian Bear aircraft was picked up in international airspace on February 18. He said it was a strong coincidence that it happened on the eve of President Obama's visit to Ottawa on February 19.

The Russian embassy in Ottawa called it a routine flight that had nothing to do with Obama's visit.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quotes a source from the Russian Cabinet as saying that it is perplexed by MacKay’s statement.

“The Canadian defense minister's statements regarding flights of our long-range aircraft are absolutely beyond understanding,” the source said. “The statements from the Canadian National Defense Ministry can only cause our perplexity, and they cannot be described other than a farce,” the source said.

Col. Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, an acting spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, told Interfax that several Russian long-range bombers took off from the Engels airbase in the Saratov region and were on a planned air patrol mission on February 18.

“The flight was carried out in line with international flying regulations. A violation of aerial borders of other states is out of the question. The neighboring states were notified about the strategic bombers' flights beforehand,” Drobyshevsky said.