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DEFENSE

Spanish jets respond to “provocative” Russian show of force off Bilbao

Two Tupolev ‘Blackjack’ bombers monitored from Norway to Spain in September

A Tupolev 160 Blackjack in an image supplied by the French Ministry of Defense.
A Tupolev 160 Blackjack in an image supplied by the French Ministry of Defense.

Two Spanish F-18 fighter jets were scrambled off the coast of Bilbao in late September after two Russian bombers triggered alarms from the Norwegian Arctic to the western edge of Europe.

In what the French Defense Ministry described as a show of force unseen since the Cold War, two Tupolev 160 long-range bombers, known in NATO parlance as “Blackjacks,” flew “provocatively” close to Spanish airspace along the country’s northern coast after setting off on September 22 from their base in Russia.

Vladimir Putin has been accused of Cold War-style brinkmanship

The Tupolevs, which are equipped with cruise missiles, were detected at 9.13am close to Norwegian airspace. In response, Norway sent up two F-16s, which accompanied them until they approached Scotland, where two UK Typhoons were waiting to monitor their progress down the west coast of Ireland, after which they headed south toward France.

At 1.57pm, two French Rafales approached the Tupolevs, which were just 100 kilometers from the coast of France. The two French fighters followed the Tupolevs until 2.33pm. “The two bombers then turned west along the Spanish coast, accompanied by two Spanish F-18s,” said the Spanish Defense Ministry. “Once they reached a point off the coast of Bilbao, they headed up to the west coast of Ireland.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of Cold War-style brinkmanship after a series of similar incidents with NATO aircraft across Europe, with more than 100 Russian planes intercepted in 2014 alone.

In November, Russian bombers flew more than 12,000 kilometers around Europe to bomb positions in Syria

Since then, Russia has fired dozens of cruise missiles from bombers and warships since it began a military campaign to back the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad last year. Its planes have also dropped large numbers of bombs on Syrian rebel positions. In November, Russian bombers flew more than 12,000 kilometers around the northern and western edge of Europe to bomb positions in Syria rather than flying across the Caspian Sea and Iran, in what was described by NATO as a show of force.

In September, two Russian Blackjack jets were intercepted over the North Sea by the Royal Air Force.

In May last year, two Russian Bear bombers were tracked flying near UK airspace near the north of Scotland.

They were escorted away from the area by Typhoons but were not regarded as a threat.

Most encounters of this kind have ended peacefully but last year Turkey shot down a Russian jet it claimed passed into its airspace while carrying out operations in Syria.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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