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Reality Check ?

Friday, September 14, 2007


Norwegian and British fighter jets were scrambled to intercept Russian bombers over the north Atlantic, the latest in a series of such incidents, Norway's military command said Friday.

Two Russian Tupolev-160 bombers or "Blackjacks" were detected by the NATO allies flying along the Norwegian coast before passing by northern Scotland, a military spokesman told AFP.

"We dispatched two F-16s from Bodoe airbase (in the north of Norway) to identify them," Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Inge Oegland said, adding that Britain had also sent aircraft.

"It conforms with the declarations of (Russian) president (Vladmir) Putin and we are expecting more such flights in the future.

"It was nothing dramatic but we are of course keeping a close eye on things," Oegland said.

Putin announced the resumption of long-range flights in international air space while he attended military exercises on August 17.

Even in the weeks before his statement, Britain and Norway had to scramble jets to intercept Russian planes near their airspace. Russian bombers had also been making increasingly frequent flights near US territory.

Such flights were standard during the Cold War standoff with the United States and its western European allies, but were abandoned in 1992 amid financial difficulties that followed the Soviet collapse.

Russia's head of strategic aviation General Pavel Androsov has said the aircraft will not carry nuclear weapons and that the main aim of the flights was to improve training for pilots.

But the flights come against a background of increasing tension between Russia and some Western powers. Observers also see it as a sign of renewed Russian self-confidence on the international stage.

Russia has objected strongly to US plans to place anti-missile defence facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland, countries that were ruled from Moscow during the Cold War but are now members of NATO.

Earlier this month, Russian and Chinese special forces held a joint counter-terrorism exercise dubbed "Friendship 2007" in Moscow, underlining the two neighbours' growing security ties.


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