Russian bomber intrusion foiled before Obama visit: Canada

February 28th, 2009 - 11:05 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaToronto, Feb 28 (IANS) In an incident reminiscent of the Cold War, Canada revealed Friday that two Russian bombers were intercepted trying to enter its airspace just hours before President Barack Obama’s visit here Feb 19. Moscow has denied the incident, saying Canada’s contention was “nothing but farce”.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the Russian bombers were spotted near Canadian airspace over the Arctic region Feb 18.

Canadian and US fighters chased them, forcing them to “turn tail,” he said in Ottawa.

Calling the timing of the incident suspect, he said: “Within 24 hours of the president’s visit to Canada last week we did scramble two F-18 fighter planes.”

As has happened in the past, the defence minister said, Canada was not given any prior notice about the bomber’s flight.

“They simply show up on a radar screen. This is not a game at all. These aircraft approaching Canadian airspace are viewed very seriously,” he said.

Reacting sharply to the minister’s statement, Moscow denied that any of its bombers approached Canadian airspace.

Calling the minister’s statement “nothing but a farce,” a Russian defence ministry spokesman in Moscow said: “During the flight, Russian bombers strictly followed international flight regulations and excluded the very possibility of violating Canadian air space. Border countries have been notified about the flights.”

He said the only recent flight under taken by any Russian bomber (Tu-160) happened last Wednesday.

“The statements by Canada’s defence minister about flights of our aircraft are absolutely incomprehensible. They are nothing but farce,” the spokesman said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the incident as “a real concern to us.”

He said: “I have expressed at various times the deep concern our government has with increasingly aggressive Russian actions around the globe and Russian intrusions into our airspace.

“This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond; we will defend our airspace.”

Canadian airspace is protected by the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) which is jointly manned by the Americans and Canadians from its headquarters in Colorado.

The Canadians have reported as many as 20 such “encounters” since mid-2007.

During the Cold War, such incidents were quite common, but stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

However, the Russians are said to have resumed these missions as they try to assert their claim over the disputed resources-rich Arctic region.

The claims of five nations touching the Arctic - Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States - are before an international tribunal.

The scramble for Arctic resources will only deepen as global warming depletes its ice cover.

– Indo-Asian News Service

gs/tb

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