Two Russian Bear long-range bombers that were seen flying near Britain's southern coast on Wednesday were intercepted by Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon fighter jets, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced Thursday.
The Russian planes, capable of carrying nuclear missiles, were spotted as they flew south of Bournemouth on Wednesday. The planes' suspicious movements prompted Britain to launch its Typhoons from the RAF bases at Lossiemouth in Scotland and Coningsby in eastern England, the MoD said.
“The Russian planes were escorted by the RAF until they were out of the UK area of interest. At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into UK sovereign airspace,” the MoD said in a statement, obtained by Reuters.
However, Moscow claimed Thursday that the flight of the Russian strategic bombers near British airspace did not breach international regulations.
“Two [Tupolev] Tu-95MS [Bear] strategic bombers… successfully completed the planned air patrols,” a Russian Air Force spokesman told RIA Novosti. “The flight route passed through neutral waters near the Barents and Norwegian Seas, [as well as] the Atlantic Ocean. The flight duration was over 19 hours.”
According to Elizabeth Quintana, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank, the Russian bombers did not breach British airspace, but they did deviate from their standard route.
“Normally Russian Bears come past Norway and down the North Sea. It could have been used to probe the RAF speed of reaction south,” Daily Mail quoted Quintana as saying. “Flying any military aircraft in or close to the sovereign airspace of another country signals displeasure or at worst aggression.”
In 2014, there were more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft -- three times as many as in 2013 -- by NATO, which is concerned about Moscow’s increased air patrols near its borders.