Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

Canada 'turns back Russia bomber'

Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber - file photo
Russia has increased the number of long-range bomber flights

Canadian air force jets intercepted a Russian bomber approaching Canadian air space the day before President Barack Obama visited Ottawa, officials say.

Two fighter jets met the long-range Bear bomber over the Arctic last week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said.

The Russian plane turned around after being signalled by the Canadian pilots, he said.

There has been an increasing number of similar Russian flights in the Arctic in recent years, Mr MacKay said.

The Canadian jets "met a Russian aircraft that was approaching Canadian airspace. They sent very clear signals that the Russian aircraft was to turn around - turn tail - to its own airspace, which it did," Mr MacKay told reporters after meeting North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) officers in Ottawa.

He said he did not know if the flight was deliberately timed for when Canadian security efforts were focused on Mr Obama's upcoming visit to Ottawa.

It began just a few years ago when then-President Putin... [said] Russia was going to take a more active role in asserting itself
Peter MacKay
Canadian Defence Minister

"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," he said of the 18 February flight.

Mr Obama visited Ottawa the next day.

An official at the Russian embassy in Ottawa said he did not think the flight had anything to do with Mr Obama's visit.

"Americans have routine flights. Russians do, different Europeans do," he was quoted as saying by Associated Press news agency.

"The routine is there. All the sides are generally informed."

Mr MacKay said Russia had refused Canada's requests for advance notification of such flights.

Arctic claims

Russian aircraft regularly probed North American airspace during the Cold War, but such flights ended after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Activity has picked up lately however, Mr MacKay said.

"It began just a few years ago when then-President Putin... [said] Russia was going to take a more active role in asserting itself. That apparently includes coming close to and up to Canadian airspace."

Moscow has claimed a large portion of the Arctic Ocean seabed and used a mini-submarine to plant a flag on the ocean floor under the North Pole two years ago.

Canada, along with the US, Norway and Denmark, also have Arctic claims. The area is believed to be rich in natural resources.

Russian bombers have also overflown American naval vessels and last year Tokyo complained that a Russian bomber had entered Japanese airspace.

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