U.K. Forces Track Russian Bombers and Fighters Over Black Sea

RAF Typhoon
A British Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft takes off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus September 22, 2016, for a mission in Iraq. Petros Karadjias/Pool/Reuters

The British Royal Air Force scrambled to track two Russian bomber aircraft above the Black Sea, a week following the annual NATO naval drill in the region.

The RAF Typhoon jet sortied from the Romanian Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta on the Black Sea coast on Tuesday, in Response to Russian Tu-22 Backfire strategic bombers, which headed southwest, near NATO airspace, the British military announced.

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The Black Sea is a priority area for the Russian navy's reinforcement since annexing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and the waters have been the site of several tense encounters between Russian and Western vessels and aircraft. Three NATO allies sit on the Black Sea coastline. The area is of high strategic importance to Russia not only because of its own ports there but also because Crimea and Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia—also an area of deployment for Russian troops—are situated on the Black Sea.

Russia's military confirmed Tuesday's flight over neutral Black Sea waters of the two Tupolev bombers, in a statement on Wednesday adding that the pair were flanked by Su-27 fighter jets.

The Defense Ministry said that "not a single foreign military aircraft" approached the Russian air force group and the jets did not enter foreign airspace. According to the RAF, the reason for that is likely because the Typhoon tracked the Tupolev aircraft at a distance and "the jets did not come within visual range of each other."

In September, when a U.S. aircraft entered the skies above the Black Sea things unfolded differently as the Pentagon claimed one Russian jet got within 10 feet, calling the maneuver "unsafe."

Less than a month prior Russia practiced shooting down advancing aircraft above the Black Sea as Russian officials have repeatedly warned against the deployment of "non-regional" forces to the waters.

NATO allies on the Black Sea have been split on hosting multinational naval forces, with Romania in favor of long-term sea deployments and agreeing to host elements of the U.S. missile shield, while Bulgaria has spoken out against it.