Brits scramble jets as Russian bombers near
July 19, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL, England — In a maneuver reminiscent of the Cold War, the British military scrambled a contingent of fighter jets Tuesday to intercept a pair of Russian bombers flying toward British airspace.
The military posturing occurred during a period of heightened tension between the United Kingdom and Russia following a diplomatic spat involving the extradition of a high-profile Russian murder suspect.
“QRA (Quick reaction alert) were scrambled this morning to intercept two Russian aircraft that were heading towards U.K. airspace,” stated a release from the British Ministry of Defence.
The MOD offered little detail about the incident in its release.
The British media, however, reported that two Tornado fighter jets stationed at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire were scrambled after Norwegian F-16s followed the Russian bombers.
Two Tu95 “Bear” bombers dispatched from a base on the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic Circle were traveling toward Britain when the MOD ordered the fighters to launch, according to an article in the Times newspaper.
The Royal Air Force fighters, however, did not intercept the Russian bombers.
“The Russian aircraft turned around before they entered U.K. airspace and therefore were not intercepted,” the MOD statement reads.
An RAF Lakenheath spokeswoman said Wednesday that no U.S. Air Force fighters were involved in the operation or were flying in the area when the incident occurred.
RAF Lakenheath is home to the 48th Fighter Wing, which includes three squadrons of F-15 Eagle fighter jets.
The incident occurred shortly after the British government ejected four Russian diplomats from London in response to Moscow’s refusal to hand over the chief suspect in the November 2006 poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.
British authorities allege former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy used a radioactive element to poison the fellow Russian national at an upscale central London hotel more than two weeks before Litvinenko’s death.
Russia contends the extradition violates its constitution.
The MOD worked to separate Tuesday’s military jostling with Britain’s larger diplomatic row with Russia.
“There is no evidence to suggest that this action is linked to other issues running in the press today; any suggestion that this is the case would be pure speculation,” the MOD statement reads.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.