Russians Are Coming (Again)

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About 24 hours prior to President Obama's Feb. 19 visit to Canada, Norad CF-18 fighters were dispatched from Cold Lake, Alberta. to intercept a Russian military bomber that closed on northern Canadian airspace. The Canadian Hornets met the Russian aircraft and "sent very clear signals" that the Russian aircraft was to turn around, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said at a press briefing. The Minister did not name the type of bomber and said he would not "stand here and accuse the Russians" of any particular intent regarding the president's visit. MacKay said the incident was not especially unusual and said the timing of the event could have been either deliberate or coincidental. He did however say it was a "strong coincidence," regarding Canada's temporary focus on Ottawa and the visiting American president. The aircraft did turn around prior to entering Canadian airspace.

The Minister said that while Russian bombers have resumed and routinely prompted Norad intercepts in recent past years, following a halt of such activities that came with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, the Minister says the frequency of the unannounced flights has increased. Some observers, along with the Minister, speculate that the flights may be linked to increased competition for arctic resources as the retreat of polar ice reveals new opportunities to tap the region's resources.