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7 Sep, 2007 14:45

Russian air patrols unwelcome in Europe

Russian bombers have caused a stir in the Norwegian and UK air forces as they neared Norway on Thursday. The two countries launched fighters in response although the Russian bombers remained inside international airspace.

Around 20 jets were scrambled on Thursday to intercept Russian bombers. Royal Air Force Tornado planes, Norwegian F-16s and NATO fighter jets were put on alert as Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers neared the Nordic country's territory in the Barents Sea.

According to the Russian Air Force, 14 Tu-95 planes, known as “Bears” by NATO, took off on Wednesday on planned long-range missions across the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Russian bombers stayed inside international airspace during the maneuvers and there were no nuclear weapons on board.

The Tu-95 is a long-serving Tupolev strategic and missile carrier built by the Soviets during the Cold War, now used for long-range patrols.

The flights were regarded by many as a show of Russian military power. Some European countries are concerned that the recent Tu-95 flights signal a new cold war.

Top U.S. military officials, though, downplayed the situation.

“These flights are part of normal military operations that different countries conduct. As Russia starts to conduct these flights again, the important thing to note is that they have been very professional, they have respected all of our air sovereignty levels, they have followed all the international flight rules,” said Major General Richard Sherlock, director of Operational Planning at the Pentagon.

It is at least the third time in recent months that Russian jets have neared other countries' airspace, provoking concerns.

In mid July Russian strategic bombers were spotted near the UK borders. British fighters scrambled to intercept them but Russia claimed its planes did not violate UK airspace.

On August 21, the British Defence Ministry reported a Russian bomber near UK airspace over the North Atlantic. 

Earlier in August Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had ordered strategic bombers to resume regular long-range patrols. Analysts said it demonstrates a significant change in the country's military policy.