NATO Reports 'Unusual' Increase Of Russian Warplanes Over Europe
NATO headquarters said on Wednesday the alliance had tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes "conducting significant military manoeuvres" in European airspace over the past two days, reports AFP.
The planes, which included strategic bombers, fighters and tanker aircraft, were detected over the Baltic Sea, North Sea/Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In a breakdown of the incidents, NATO said that in the early hours Wednesday, eight Russian aircraft - four TU-95 strategic bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and four tankers - were detected over the North Sea, flying in international airspace.
Four Norwegian F-16 fighters were sent up to intercept them.
Six of the aircraft then turned back towards Russia while two TU-95s continued over the North Sea, with British Typhoon fighters called in.
The two planes then flew down into the Atlantic, where Portuguese F-16s picked them up.
The two bombers subsequently turned around, flying west of Britain, apparently heading back to Russia, it said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon, a mixed force of at least seven Russian warplanes were intercepted over the Baltic Sea, while another two TU-95s and two Su-27 Flanker fighters were intercepted by Turkish fighters over the Black Sea.
On Tuesday, another seven Russian planes flew over the Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea where they were intercepted by German Typhoon fighters, deployed as part of NATO's support efforts for its eastern allies.
"These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace," NATO said.
Overall, NATO said it had intercepted Russian aircraft more than 100 times so far this year - three times more than it did last year.
"Scrambles and intercepts are standard procedure when an unknown aircraft approaches NATO airspace," the statement said.
However, it said, such flights pose a potential risk to civilian aviation because the Russian military often does not file flight plans or use on-board transponders.
"This means civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft, nor ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic," the statement said.
According to some reports, fighters of Sweden and Finland, who are not NATO members, also participated in the interception operation over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday. Both countries are debating eventual joining the alliance.
Meanwhile, a recent poll in Sweden, quoted by the Financial Times, shows that for the first time more Swedes are in favour of joining NATO than are against.
A week after the hunt for the suspected Russian submarine off the Stockholm archipelago, 37% of Swedes said they supported joining NATO while 36% were against. Five months ago a poll showed 28% in favour and 56% against.
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