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Fleet of Russian nuclear bombers intercepted in UK airspace (testing British air defenses)

RAF intercepts eight Russian bombers as Putin provokes West

The RAF scrambled to intercept eight Russian nuclear bombers heading for Britain yesterday in the biggest aerial confrontation between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.

The Tupolev-95 Bear bombers were approaching in formation when they were met by four Tornado F3 fighter jets. Defence sources said that the Russian pilots turned away as soon as they spotted the approaching Tornados and did not enter British airspace.

Norway had earlier sent four F16 jets to shadow the Russians as they neared its airspace in what Moscow insisted was a training mission. The bombers had flown over international waters from the Barents Sea to the Atlantic before heading for Britain.

Russian Bears flying in pairs have triggered several alerts this year as they neared the 12-mile British airspace zone, but this was the first time that so many bombers had simultaneously tested British air defences.

The exercise is expensive for the RAF. It costs more than £40,000 an hour to fly a Tornado F3 and yesterday’s operation will have cost at least £160,000. Underlining the scale of the operation, the RAF also sent up an airborne early warning aircraft (Awacs) and a VC10 tanker so that the Tornados could be refuelled.

Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, a spokesman for Russia’s air force, said that 14 long-range bombers began missions over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans on Wednesday night.

In an echo of the Cold War chess game that the Soviet Union and Nato played continuously in the skies around Europe, he acknowledged that “virtually all of our strategic planes are being shadowed by Nato fighters”.

He later told Interfax that up to 20 Nato jets had scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft. Colonel Drobyshevsky had announced on Monday that a dozen bombers would practice firing cruise missiles over the Arctic.

This was Russia’s biggest show of strength since President Putin ordered strategic air patrols to resume last month. They were suspended in 1992 after the Soviet collapse because the Kremlin could not afford them.

Until Mr Putin’s decision, the RAF’s main air-defence role around Britain had been to ensure that it reacted swiftly to suspicious manoeuvres by commercial airliners approaching British airspace, with a view to countering any hint of a terrorist-related attack.

The flights are the latest example of Mr Putin’s ability to irritate the West with bold strokes that cost the Kremlin little and delight many ordinary Russians, who enjoy seeing Nato discomfited. He has already pulled Russia out of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty on arms limitation, and railed against US proposals to install a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

With presidential elections only six months away, such assertive nationalism convinces many Russians that he has restored the country’s international prestige. Some critics have suggested that a siege mentality is being fostered to create support for a presidential successor from the siloviki, the Kremlin’s hardline military and security service faction.

As Nato scrambled its jets, Mr Putin was in Indonesia to seal a $1 billion contract for his hosts to buy Russian fighter planes, submarines and helicopters, with a loan provided by Moscow.

Russia’s economy is flush with petro-dollars. Mr Putin’s visit to the world’s most populous Muslim nation forms part of a Kremlin drive to convert economic power into a new global political and military reach.

Russia has already sought to restore its influence in India, the Middle East and Africa, and is building ties in Latin America. Russian and Chinese special forces are currently on joint counter-terrorism exercises, further evidence of their growing military relationship.

Mr Putin ordered strategic flights to resume after noting that other countries had maintained their patrols in the past 15 years. He said that this threatened Russia’s security. Bear bombers can carry nuclear warheads but General Pavel Androsov, the head of strategic aviation, said last week that they were not armed and that the goal of the patrols was pilot training.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said on Monday that the missile defence shield was a “red line” for Moscow.

Unease in the sky

–– This interception of eight Bears was the fourth time that RAF aircraft have had to be scrambled this year

–– In May two Tornado F3s were launched from RAF Leuchars in Scotland to intercept a Bear observing a Royal Navy exercise called Neptune Warrior

–– In July two more Bear bombers were headed off by two Tornados as they approached British airspace

–– Last month the RAF scrambled two Eurofighter Typhoons from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire for the first time to head off two Bears

–– Also last month General Gene Renuar, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command, said that Russian bombers were flying more often and closer to US territory

The Ministry of Defence released this photograph showing a British Tornado, top, escorting from British airspace the larger Russian Bear bomber


The Times, "RAF intercepts eight Russian bombers as Putin provokes West", 7 September 2007.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 07 September 2007.

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Tags: Russia, nuclear, bombers, Russia, aircraft, Tupolev-95 Bear bombers, nuclear war, World War III, predictions, prophecy, , conspiracy theories.

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