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NATO Intercepts Of Russian Bombers Draws Ire from Moscow

Russian Air Force Chief Claims Violations of Safety Rules

The saga continues. NATO was accused recently by the chief of Russia's air force for violation of safety rules while escorting Russian bombers on patrol flights over neutral waters.

CNN reports Col.-Gen. Alexander Zelin said Saturday NATO aircraft were creating risky situations by approaching bombers too closely and too often. "They approach our strategic bombers at unacceptable distances and at unacceptable intervals, conduct various maneuvers around them and violate flight safety rules in every way," Zelin was quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Zelin complained NATO F-15, F-16 and F-22 fighter jets regularly "attack" Russian bombers over the Arctic Ocean. "It is not a misuse of the word 'attack' because our partners are training for combat actions, reaching the point of an attack," Zelin said.

Though portraying itself as an innocent party, Russia has been the antagonist in similar disputes, according to NATO. As ANN reported in February, the US scrambled fighters to intercept and escort Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers that flew over a US aircraft carrier in the Pacific. In September 2007, Finland accused Russian jets of violating Finnish airspace.

Russia responds its Cold War-era turboprops were flying over neutral territory.

Such interceptions and disputes were common during the Cold War when Soviet bombers regularly flew missions over neutral waters.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the flights had become less common and even stopped for a time. Recent moves by the Russian government to assert its military power in the international arena has given rise to the flights once again.

The renewed interest in the patrol flights by Russia is not the only display of military might Moscow is using. Under the eye of newly elected President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia displayed tanks and missile launchers on Red Square for the first time since the Soviet era on Friday as part of Victory Day celebrations.

Though Russia's military spending has increased to an annual $40 billion during the past eight years from oil profits, analysts say the armed forces still suffer from problems such as corruption and outdated equipment that has reduced its capabilities since the Soviet collapse.

FMI: www.nato.int

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