BRUSSELS — NATO on Wednesday reported an "unusual" spike in Russian military flights over the Black, Baltic and North seas and the Atlantic Ocean during the past two days.
Alliance military spokesman Lt. Col. Jay Janzen that four groups made up of Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers, MiG-31 fighters and other Russian warplanes had been conducting large-scale maneuvers in international airspace.
He said Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish and Turkish fighters were scrambled in response, as well as planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden.
No incidents were reported, but Janzen said the maneuvers were unusual in their size. He said NATO was still tracking some of the Russian planes as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.
Tensions have been running high between NATO and Russia since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March. According to NATO officials, alliance pilots have conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year, or about three times more than in 2013.
Brynjar Stordal, spokesman for the operational command of Norway's armed forces, said Norwegian F-16s intercepted one formation of Bear bombers and tankers west of Norway.The tankers turned back north, he said, but the bombers kept flying south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.
"We've had several of these incidents, around 40 a year," Stordal said. "What sets this apart from some of the missions we see from the Russian side is the formation was a little bit larger than we usually see and they went a bit further south than they usually do."