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US fighter planes intercept Russian combat jets off Alaska, Sweden protests 'violation'

Eight Russian planes, including long-range bombers, were intercepted this week by US and Canadian pilots. Meanwhile, Sweden has made its displeasure known to the Russian government after similar incursions.

Washington defense officials said on Friday that Russian planes were intercepted by US and Canadian warplanes on two separate occasions when they entered a US "Air Defense Identification Zone" (ADIZ) this week near Alaska.

In the first of two incidents, the Russian planes - which included two Mig-31 fighter jets, two refueling aircraft and two Tupolev Tu-95 Bear long-range bombers - were identified and intercepted by F-22 fighter jets according to air monitoring officials. The aircraft, which were about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the US coast, were said to have left "without incident."

A statement by both the US and Canadian aerospace command NORAD, and US Northern Command NORTHCOM also said that Canadian fighters intercepted two Tu-95 long-range bombers in the Canadian ADIZ on Thursday. Those planes were about 75 kilometers from the Canadian coast.

Aircraft flying into another country's ADIZ are required to identify themselves and provide flight data, even though such an area is not part of a nation's sovereign airspace.

Although the incident on Wednesday was not the first time Russian planes had entered the area, a US defense source told the AFP news agency that it was "the first time in a long time" that fighter jets had passed through it.

Summoned to the ministry

Sweden complained on Friday that Russian fighter planes had violated its airspace this week, summoning the Russian ambassador to the foreign ministry in Stockholm.

The Russian planes were said to have been in Swedish airspace, near the Baltic Sea island of Oland, on Wednesday for about 30 seconds. The combat jets, reported to have been Sukhoi Su-24s, were detected initially by radar and left when a Swedish Gripen jet was sent to the area.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the incident was "a major violation" adding that it was the worst he had seen since he became the country's top diplomat in 2006.

Finland, which like Sweden is not a NATO member, has also experienced recent violations of its airspace by Russian planes. Both countries have worked with the alliance since 1994 as part of the Partnership for Peace agreement, and recently upgraded their level of cooperation with NATO members.

Tensions have been running particulary high between the US and Russia over a perceived Russian interference in conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine, as well as the annnexation of Crimea. Meanwhile, the Baltic region as a whole is on heightened alert as a result of the Ukraine crisis.

rc/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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