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Before Obama Trip, Canada Intercepted Jets

Canada's defense minister said fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Russian bomber in the Arctic on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa last week.

Peter MacKay said Friday that the bomber never made it into Canadian airspace. But he said two Canadian CF-18 jets met the bomber in international airspace and sent a "strong signal that they should back off."

He called the timing of the Feb. 18 incident a "strong coincidence."

Mr. Obama arrived in Canada the next day.

"I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence," MacKay said.

"They met a Russian aircraft that was approaching Canadian airspace, and as they have done in previous occasions they sent very clear signals that are understood, that the aircraft was to turnaround, turn tail, and head back to their airspace, which it did."

Soviet aircraft regularly violated North American airspace during the Cold War but stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian jets began violating North American airspace again several years ago.

"It's difficult to say whether this was a coincidence or it was an effort on the part of the Russians to perhaps be up to some mischief or cause a bit of a diversion," MacKay said.

MacKay said it happened when Canada's security focus would be on Ottawa, but he said resources were not stretched.

Last summer, former Canadian foreign affairs minister David Emerson said Russian intrusions into Canadian air space had greatly increased.

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