Russian bomber neared Canada before Obama visit

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.

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