Russian jets have buzzed Great Britain on 43 hair-raising occasions since 2010, a dramatic upswing in the number of confrontations between British fighter pilots and the Russians — and the rise in incidents may be tied to the assassination of a former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko defected to Great Britain in 2000 becoming an outspoken critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Litvinenko died in London on November 23, 2006, after an agonizing 23-day illness brought, authorities say, by highly radioactive poison allegedly slipped into his tea by two of Putin’s assassins.
British investigators quickly pointed the finger at Russia, and Litvinenko on his deathbed accused Putin of masterminding his poisoning with radioactive polonium — a material virtually impossible to obtain without access to a nuclear reactor. British investigators have since said that Litvinenko was the victim of “a miniature nuclear attack.”
While 2006, the year that ended with Litvenenko’s death, saw only one incident of Russian jets flying so near to British airspace that Royal Air Force fighters scrambled to intercept them, in the following year, 19 incidents of RAF fighters intercepting Russian jets were recorded, according to a Saturday report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Already in 2015, RAF fighters scrambled twice to intercept Russian aircraft. The first confrontation took place on January 28, when RAF Typhoon fighters were force to escort two Russian “Bear” long-range bombers, as seen in the photo below.
The RAF Typhoons scrambled again just this week, on February 18, as two more of the same Russian Tu-95 bombers again flew dangerously close to British airspace.
The Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom scoffed at British fears of the Russian aircraft, in an op-ed piece published on the English-language Russian government-run news site Russia Today.
“All flights are carried out in strict accordance with international regulations regarding the use of airspace. Aircraft fly over the high seas without entering the airspace and thus violating the borders of other states, a fact that can be confirmed by radar data in each case,” wrote Alexander Yakovenko. “The level of public concern regarding the latest incidents involving Russian aircraft in the vicinity of British airspace have been blown vastly out of proportion.”
In 2014, RAF jets scrambled 20 times to escort foreign aircraft away from U.K. airspace. More than one-in-three of those incidents, eight in total, were provoked by Russian jets and other aircraft.
[Top Image: Yevgeny Pashnin/Wikimedia Commons]
[Middle Images: Wikimedia Commons]
[Bottom Image: RAF]