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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 11:50 GMT
Russia fires missiles off France
Tu-160. File photo
The Tu-160 is Russia's chief long-range jet bomber
Russian strategic bombers have fired missiles off the French coast as part of naval exercises in the region, a Russian military official has said.

He said two Tu-160 bombers tested the missiles in neutral waters in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France and Spain on Tuesday.

The jets were tracked by British and Norwegian planes, the official said.

The exercises come amid Russia's growing military assertiveness in recent years.

Russia has also recently resumed long-range patrols by its bomber aircraft.

The practice was suspended after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was revived last August as part of a more assertive foreign policy pursued by President Vladimir Putin.

Blackjacks

"The crews of two Tu-160 planes... are successfully carrying out exercises over the Atlantic and firing rockets," Col Alexander Drobyshevsky, an aide to Russia's air force commander, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

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He said that the manoeuvres were "being carried out... in strict accordance with international rules" in neutral waters.

A Norwegian military spokesman said the Russian bombers - codenamed Blackjacks by Nato - remained within international airspace at all times, the AFP news agency reported.

In December, Russia announced that it would stage a series of naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic in what it said was a bid to boost its presence and protect shipping.

Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said battleships, helicopters and aircraft would take part in the manoeuvres.

Military analysts say Russia's boosted military presence is largely symbolic.

Higher oil prices have enabled Russia to re-invest in its armed forces but its military capabilities remain far below what they were during the Soviet era, correspondents say.

The Russian navy's reputation has been severely dented by accidents such as the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000.

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