OTTAWA - Canadian warplanes intercepted an approaching Russian bomber hours before U.S. President Barack Obama's Ottawa visit, Defense Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.
Two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets, part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, scrambled from Cold Lake, Alberta, and turned away the Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bomber less than 24 hours before Obama's Feb. 19 visit with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, MacKay said.
The Norad fighter jets "met a Russian aircraft that was approaching Canadian airspace," he said at a news conference. "They sent very clear signals that the Russian aircraft was to turn around -- turn tail -- to its own airspace, which it did."
MacKay said he didn't know if the near-incursion was a deliberate provocation or an accident.
"I am 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 a presence, as we always do, with F-18 fighter planes," he said.
Russian attempts to violate Canadian airspace, which The Globe and Mail said stopped after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, resumed "just a few years ago," MacKay said, after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Russia would take a more active role in asserting itself.
"That apparently includes coming close to and up to Canadian airspace," MacKay said.
Such violations are "not a game at all," MacKay said with Canadian defense staff chief Gen. Walter Natynczyk and Norad commander U.S. Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart at his side.
The White House had no immediate comment.
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