US scrambles stealth fighter jets to intercept Russian bomber planes off Alaska coast

Incident is the closest approach by Russian planes since Donald Trump took office 

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American fighter jets have been scrambled to intercept Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska in the first such confrontation since Donald Trump took office.

Two F-22 Raptor stealth jets and an E-3 Sentry early warning plane were dispatched in international airspace on Monday night.

They flew alongside a pair of Tu-95 Bear bombers off Kodiak Island for several minutes on Monday evening, before the Russian aircraft peeled away and headed back towards their base.

Navy Commander Gary Ross, a spokesman for the Pentagon, described the interception as “safe and professional”.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command monitors approaches to the US’ area of interest, just outside its sovereign airspace.

Russian military aircraft have been intercepted around 60 times since 2007, an official said, with the most recent incident coming in 2015.

That saw a pair of Russian bombers fly just 40 miles off the coast of California and around Alaska on 4 July, when a pilot reportedly relayed the message: “Good morning, American pilots. We are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day.”

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A Russian intelligence ship, the Viktor Leonov, has recently been spotted off the US coast and two months ago, Russian aircraft had several encounters with the USS Porter as it sailed in the Black Sea.

The latest interception comes after dozens of similar incidents across Europe, seeing multiple countries scramble jets to monitor Russian planes skirting EU airspace in what appear to be deliberate provocations.

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, told CNN Vladimir Putin’s forces were “trying to show their teeth” by flying so close to the American coast.

“This was a show of force by the Russians to show us that they are still here…an attempt to come up as close as they could to our international borders to see what our reaction would be,” he added.

US-Russian relations have soured in the wake of Mr Trump’s vow to improve ties with Moscow, following mounting tensions over Syria, Ukraine and North Korea.

On a visit to Russia last week, Rex Tillerson described the situation “at a low point” following talks with Mr Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Mr Trump later said relations “may be at an all-time low”, amid continued investigations into alleged Russian support for his campaign, adding: “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all.”

The situation has been echoed across Europe, where there has been concern over the possibility of Russian interference in upcoming elections in France and Germany.

A rise in tensions has coincided with an increase in incidents involving Russian aircraft nearing European airspace, including in the UK.

RAF jets have been scrambled on numerous occasions, including in February as Russian Blackjack bombers spent more than five hours circling the British Isles.

Mr Putin has been accused of Cold War-style “brinkmanship” over a series of similar incidents, but the Kremlin has attacked Nato for “warmongering” with new deployments and extensive military drills in eastern Europe.

In the Baltic Sea region alone, Russian planes were intercepted by Nato jets 110 times in 2016, the alliance said as it continues to increase its air policing capability.

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