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Russian Bombers Skirt Norwegian Air Space

Norwegian and British fighters scrambled twice Thursday to monitor eight Russian bombers that neared the Nordic country's territory in the latest show of air power by the Kremlin, defense officials said.

Lt. Col. John Inge Oeglaend, of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, said the Tupolev-95 strategic bombers, also called Tu-95MC or Bears, neared but did not enter Norwegian air space in the far north.

British defense officials said four Royal Air Force fighters also scrambled to monitor the flight, which did not enter British territory.

"They followed a normal route in international air space," Oeglaend said by telephone from the western Norway port of Stavanger. He said they flew near Norway's northern tip over the Barents Sea, then over the North Atlantic and back.

Oeglaend said two Norwegian F-16 fighters were sent up both times that the Russian aircraft approached Norway, in keeping with normal practice.

Norway, a member of the NATO alliance, and Russia share land and ocean borders in the Arctic, including the vast Barents Sea.

According to Oeglaend, this is the third time Norwegian fighters have scrambled since mid-July to monitor a rising number of Russian military air exercises.

A British Defense Ministry spokesman, speaking on traditional condition of anonymity, said, "I can confirm that in the early hours of this morning four F3s launched from RAF Leeming and RAF Waddington to intercept eight Russian Bears, which had not entered U.K. airspace."

Russian news agencies quoted air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky as saying Thursday that Russian long-range bombers had begun patrols of distant areas of the globe late Wednesday, in accordance with plans announced by President Vladimir Putin for a resumption of the flights.

"In accordance with the confirmed plan, 14 Tu-95MC strategic bombers on Wednesday evening began regular air patrols over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans involving in-flight refueling," ITAR-Tass and Interfax quoted Drobyshevsky as saying.

He said the flights were not violating international regulations and that the planes "are flying over neutral waters, not approaching close to the air borders of foreign countries," according to ITAR-Tass.

Drobyshevsky said that "practically all (the bombers involved) are being shadowed by NATO jets," the reports said.

In mid-August, Norwegian fighters scrambled to monitor a flight of 11 Russian bombers exercising off western Norway in the biggest show of Russian air power over the Norwegian Sea since the early 1990s.

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