Two Russian bombers flew frighteningly close to the airspace of three western European countries Wednesday, forcing the Dutch, Danish and British Air Forces to put fighter jets in the air, making sure the two strategic bombers did not create a serious international incident. But Wednesday's near-incursions were not the first such incidents over the past year.
However, these Russian bombers flying near Dutch, Danish and U.K. airspace came at a time when, due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, tensions between Russia and the west are at their most dangerous level in years.
A Dutch Air Force spokesperson, Maj. Wilko Ter Horst, said that it was about 3:50 in the afternoon, or 9:50 am on the U.S. East Coast, that the Dutch military saw that the two Russian bombers had made a slight, but very definite, incursion into the Dutch-controlled skies.
The two large bombers, believed to be Russia's TU-95 bombers, known as "Bears," flew about a half mile inside the Dutch airspace. The Dutch sent two F-16s into the sky to run the Russian bombers off.
"That's why we scrambled, that's why the Danish scrambled and the English scrambled, to ensure they fly out of our air space," Ter Horst said.
A TU-95 bomber is pictured above.
The two bombers also flew toward U.K. airspace, coming close to Scotland's north coast, provoking the Royal Air Force to send two Typhoon fighter jets to cut them off.
"The aircraft were subsequently identified as Russian military aircraft," said the U.K. Ministry of Defense in a statement. "The Russian military aircraft remained in international airspace at all times as they are perfectly entitled to do so. Russian military flights have never entered UK sovereign airspace without authorization."
The European countries are all playing down any possible significance of the Russian bombers apparent test of the European response systems. The said that they did not believe the Russian bombers flyover was related to the Ukraine crisis and that, in fact, near-misses with European airspace are not uncommon.
There were eight such incidents with Russian bombers in 2013, Sky News reported. The below photograph from Britain's Defense Ministry shows a Typhoon fighter escorting a Russian TU-95 Bear bomber away from British airspace in 2007, in an incident similar to the encounter with Russian bombers that took place Wednesday.