OTTAWA, (Reuters) – Canadian fighters planes scrambled to intercept an approaching Russian bomber less than 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Ottawa last week, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.
The long-range Bear bomber did not enter Canada’s Arctic airspace but the two CF-18 fighters had to order the plane to “back off”, MacKay told a news conference.
He also told reporters that Russia had not warned Canada that the flight was coming, a statement that a Russian government source in Moscow dismissed as farcical. The Russian government source said Canada had been informed about the flight before it took off.
“So the statements from Canada’s defense ministry are perplexing to say the least and cannot be called anything other than a farce,” Interfax news agency quoted the source as saying.
Canada quickly denied receiving any advance notice.
Obama spent a few hours in the Canadian capital on Feb. 19 on his first foreign trip since becoming president.
“I’m not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit but it was a strong coincidence, which we met with the presence, as we always do, of F-18 fighter planes … and sent a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our air space,” MacKay said.
He also said Russia had stepped up its bomber flights toward the Canadian Arctic in the last few years, reviving a practice that was common during the Cold War.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was very concerned by the incident.
“I have expressed at various times the deep concern our government has with the increasingly aggressive Russian actions around the globe and into our airspace,” he told a news conference in the western province of Saskatchewan.