Security experts say that Russia was looking for weaknesses in the British fighter force
Britain’s Royal Air Force said Thursday that they scrambled Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets to intercept two Russian Bear Tu-95 nuclear bombers. The Russian jets had flown in the UK’s ‘area of interest,’ said the Ministry of Defense. The Russian planes were intercepted flying over the English Channel on Wednesday. It was the second time Russia sent fighter planes near the British airspace this week.
Britain maintains the highest level of readiness
The RAF was quick to launch Typhoon jets from bases at Coningsby in eastern England and Lossiemouth in Scotland. The RAF jets escorted Russian planes for about half an hour until they were out of Britain’s area of interest. It is still unclear whether the Russian Bear bombers were armed with their nuclear payloads. The Ministry of Defense said that at no time the Russian aircraft cross into Britain’s sovereign airspace.
Though the nuclear bombers were in the international airspace, they had deviated from their usual flight path. Just seconds after they deviated from their standard route, the UK’s quick reaction alert (QRA) fighter planes were scrambled. Britain launches QRA to intercept planes that can’t be identified by any other means. In this case, the Russian bombers did not file a flight plan, didn’t communicate with air traffic control on the ground, and were flying with their transponders turned off.
Russia is probing Britain’s speed of reaction
Last year, Britain and NATO intercepted over 100 Russian aircraft amid rising tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis. Elizabeth Quintana, a defense expert at the Royal United Services Institute told Daily Mail that Vladimir Putin could be probing the RAF speed of reaction. She called Russia’s unusual maneuver an act of aggression. It raised fears that Russia was looking for weaknesses in the British forces.
She added that Russia’s move could be linked to Britain launching an inquiry into the death of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko turned against Russia, and was killed on Nov.1, 2006 in the Millennium Hotel in London when he drank green tea laced with highly radioactive polonium-210. On his deathbed, Litvinenko told the UK police that Russian president Vladimir Putin had ordered his poisoning. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations.