OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian fighters scrambled to intercept an approaching Russian bomber less than 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa last week, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said on Friday.

The Bear bomber did not enter Canada's Arctic airspace but the Canadian fighters had to order the plane to turn back, MacKay said at a news conference.

Obama spent a few hours in the Canadian capital on February 19 on his first foreign trip since taking over at the White House.

I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit but it was a strong coincidence, which we met with the presence, as we always do, of F-18 fighter planes ... and sent a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our air space, said MacKay.

He also said Russia had stepped up its bomber flights toward the Canadian Arctic in the last few years, reviving a practice that was common during the Cold War.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Doina Chiacu)