RAF fighters intercept Russian bombers

Vladimir Putin and Boris Johnson 'agreed that aggravation was in no one’s interest'

The RAF sent out Typhoon jets from an air base in Scotland after Russian aircraft approached British airspace. Photo: PA
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Tensions between Russia and Britain increased on Wednesday when RAF fighters were sent to intercept Russian aircraft off the north coast of Scotland.

The mission began as Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the Ukraine crisis with President Vladimir Putin.

Four Tupolev bombers approached British airspace on Wednesday afternoon hours before the British prime minister called Mr Putin to discuss growing tensions in Eastern Europe.

Downing Street released a statement about the phone call between two leaders.

“The prime minister expressed his deep concern about Russia’s current hostile activity on the Ukrainian border," it said.

"He emphasised the need to find a way forward which respects both Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to self-defence. The prime minister stressed that any further Russian incursion into Ukrainian territory would be a tragic miscalculation.

“The leaders agreed that aggravation was in no one’s interest."

It said that Mr Johnson and Mr Putin also discussed the Iran nuclear deal, Afghanistan and climate change.

"They agreed to apply this spirit of dialogue to the current tensions in order to find a peaceful resolution," Downing Street said.

Their discussion took place hours after two RAF Typhoon fighters were sent to meet the Russian bombers as they approached the north coast of Scotland, close to the Orkney Islands.

Russian aircraft crews often turn off their identification transponders to test air defences but it is understood the bombers were picked up by the UK’s system.

The jets escorted the Russian bombers, which have a range of 8,000 kilometres, out of Britain's area of interest, the RAF said.

The Typhoons, supported by an RAF Voyager air-to-air refuelling tanker, were sent from RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, against “unidentified aircraft approaching the UK”.

"At no time did the Russian bombers enter UK sovereign airspace,” the RAF said.

Russia called Boris Johnson 'utterly confused'. AFP

It is understood to be the first time RAF jets have intercepted Russian aircraft this year following 10 such incidents last year.

The encounter came at a time of worry in the West that Russia will invade Ukraine within days or weeks.

In November 2021, RAF jets were launched in response to the presence of Russian TU-160 Blackjack bombers.

Officials said at the time that the fighters escorted the Russian aircraft out of the area of interest and that the bombers did not enter UK airspace.

On the same day, a Royal Navy warship began monitoring two Russian naval vessels as they transited sailed down the English Channel.

The French military said on Monday that it had monitored the two Russian ships, the corvettes Soobrazitelny and the Stoykiy, and handed responsibility to HMS Argyle, a Type 23 frigate, and the US Navy's USS Roosevelt.

A representative for the UK Ministry of Defence described it as a "normal response".

Tass, Russia's state news agency, reported on 24 January that the two Russian vessels had left Kaliningrad to conduct combat exercises.

The incident took place as Russia called British Prime Minister Boris Johnson "utterly confused" and ridiculed British politicians for their "stupidity and ignorance".

Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops on its side of its border with Ukraine, denies any plan to invade its neighbour but says it could take unspecified military measures if demands are not met, including a promise by Nato never to admit Ukraine into the alliance.

Updated: February 02, 2022, 7:13 PM