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U.K. defense chief: Russia a "real and present danger"

An F/A-18 Hornet from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) escorts a Russian Tu-95 Bear, long rang bomber aircraft on Feb. 9, 2008 south of Japan.

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LONDON -- British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon says Russia poses a "real and present danger" to European security and that tensions between Moscow and NATO are "warming up."

Fallon said Wednesday that NATO must be prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin to threaten former Soviet bloc countries including Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia.

The comments made to reporters during a trip to Sierra Leone were among the harshest made by senior British officials in recent months.

According to BBC News, Royal Air Force jets intercepted two Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers off the coast of Cornwall, a county in southwest England, on Wednesday night, and escorted them away from British airspace.

The incident came just two weeks after jets were scrambled in a similar manner to escort another Russian plane flying over the English Channel, just off the coast of Bournemouth.

There has been an increase in Russian probing of British defenses recently.