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Russia downplays Tu-142 flight over U.S. aircraft carrier

RIA Novosti

06/03/2008 13:14 MOSCOW, March 6 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Navy is surprised by the commotion raised in Western media over the flight of a Russian military plane in the vicinity of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the Navy spokesman said on Thursday.

Western media earlier cited U.S. officials as saying that a Russian bomber came within three to five nautical miles and flew 2,000 feet (610 meters) above the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier off the Korean coast. A similar incident occurred less than a month ago.

"Some Western media reports that called the flight of the Tu-142 plane in the vicinity of the American aircraft carrier 'an incident' are surprising," Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo said.

Tu-142 Bear-F is the maritime reconnaissance/strike version of the Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber, designed mainly for anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

Dygalo said the plane, assigned to Russia's Pacific Fleet, was on a routine patrol flight over the Sea of Japan, conducted in strict compliance with international regulations on the use of airspace over neutral waters.

"It is common practice," the Navy spokesman said, adding that two U.S. F/A-18 fighters and several Japanese F-2 and F-16 accompanied the Russian ASW plane during the flight.

In February, a media storm was sparked when a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber flew close above the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier to the south of Japan, and another circled some 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) from the ship.

Four F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters were reportedly launched from the carrier to escort the Russian jets away from the area.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans last August, following an order signed by President Vladimir Putin. The move was widely seen as a sign of Russia's increasingly aggressive military stance.

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