Last week, in an episode that could have been taken from the
dark days of the Cold War, Britain's
air-defence Tornado aircraft scrambled to meet two incoming Russian TU142(F) Bear
bombers speeding towards the UK
across the North Sea, apparently on a spying mission.
Two Tornado F3 fighters took off from RAF Leuchars in Fife
and intercepted the Bears in international airspace.
The two Bears were spotted during a major Royal Navy
exercise (Neptune Warrior) to the north of the Outer Hebrides. Commanders
believe they were planning to spy on the warships, including the aircraft
After shadowing the Russians for some 15 minutes, they
watched as the giant bombers turned and headed home to their base in Murmansk,
in a set piece spy play similar to the skirmishes during the 1970s and 80s, when
Bear bombers probed the UK's
defences to test the response.
While such visits from the Russians have become extremely
rare, the latest one is a reminder that Moscow's
long-term ambitions are not entirely clear and that the old Cold War rivalries
could well resurface.
Under President-Putin – a former KGB general – Russia
has been flexing its economic muscle by cutting off gas flows to the West,
highlighting Europe's growing dependence on its energy,
and the Kremlin has also begun to take a more aggressive stance in foreign
We live in very uncertain times, and if ever this country
needed to stop running down our armed services, now is the time, with the
Government heeding the calls of Senior Defence Staff to put more money and
planning into the defences of Britain.
Or maybe they just wanted a photo of Gordon Brown's house, also in Fife.