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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Planes Breach NATO Airspace Twice

LONDON -- British and Norwegian jets intercepted Russian military aircraft after they breached NATO airspace close to Britain and Finland, defense officials said.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen demanded an explanation from Moscow on Friday over the violation of Finnish airspace, the latest in a spate of recent incursions.

Russia's Air Force said it had set up a commission to investigate the Finnish claims, but an official insisted the aircraft had flown over neutral territory.

Two British F-3 jets intercepted two Russian long-range bombers, Britain's Defense Ministry said, without revealing precisely where the incident took place.

Two Tu-160 bombers were initially intercepted by Norwegian F-16s on Friday before they entered NATO airspace patrolled by Britain, defense officials said.

British jets shadowed the Russian bombers until they altered course, a Defense Ministry spokesman in London said.

In Finland, authorities said an Il-76 transport plane flew about 4.5 kilometers into Finnish airspace for three minutes.

"These kinds of [violations] must not happen, that's our clear message here," Vanhanen said. "And when they do happen, then they need to be sorted out between the countries in question. That has to be done this time, too."

An investigation has been opened by Finland's Frontier Guard, the country's Defense Ministry said.

Interception of Russian warplanes in NATO-patrolled airspace has become increasingly common since the Kremlin last month ordered strategic bombers to carry out long-range missions for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Alexander Drobyshevsky, an aide to the Air Force commander, said Moscow was investigating Finland's claims.

"The Air Force command has put together a commission to examine objective flight data for this plane and to check how the flight had been prepared and how it was conducted," Drobyshevsky said, Interfax reported.

But Itar-Tass quoted Drobyshevsky as saying Russian planes had "flown over neutral waters without approaching air borders of any foreign nation."

International airspace along the southern Finnish coast is narrow, and officials had expected violations, military officials in Finland said.

"There's a lot of Russian airborne activity above the Gulf of Finland, especially between Kaliningrad and the Russian mainland," military spokesman Marko Luotonen said. "This didn't really come as a surprise."

Russian planes, mostly military transporters, frequently fly between the Baltic port exclave of Kaliningrad and bases near St. Petersburg.

Last year, Russia apologized for violations of Finnish airspace, following about a dozen such incidents over a period of two years.

Similar complaints of air violations have been made by Finland's southern neighbors, Estonia and the other Baltic states. In October 2005, a Russian fighter jet crashed in Lithuania.