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Flights by Russian long-range nuclear bombers skirting British airspace routinely spy on UK air defences, but should not be considered provocative, a senior former Russian officer has told the Telegraph.Lt Gen Evgenny Buzhinsky, a retired officer who now heads a defence and security think tank in Moscow, said reconnaisance was normal practice and Nato nations had long carried out similar flights along Russia’s borders.He said: “You understand, in the 1990s for 10 years, even longer, our long range aviation didn’t do any flights or training at all.That was obviously to an extent down to economic reasons: the collapse of the Soviet Union, no money, no fuel, no nothing, pilots left [the service].I don’t see anything provocative in that whatsoever.” The flights were commonplace during the Cold War but stopped with the fall of the Soviet Union, when money for the country’s armed forces dried up.The flights began again in the middle of last decade, but have more recently come under increasing scrutiny as relations have plummeted after the annexation of Crimea.He said: “It harks back to the days of the Cold War when in those days the Soviets were just telling us they were there, they were probing, they were looking for weaknesses in our system.
He added Russia may decide to only allow the airlines of "friendly countries" to fly in its airspace.“If there are sanctions related to the energy sector, or further restrictions on Russia's financial sector, we will have to respond asymmetrically,” the Prime Minister told Russian daily Regarding commercial aircrafts flying in Russian airspace, he explained: “If Western carriers have to bypass our airspace, this could drive many struggling airlines into bankruptcy."This is not the way to go.The incident was the seventh time this year that RAF quick reaction jets have been scrambled to Russian military planes, in incidents the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has called “annoying” and a “nuisance”.David Cameron accused Vladimir Putin of posturing after Bear bombers were intercepted off the Cornish coast in February, saying he was “trying to make some sort of a point”.So we’ve been flying like that for 10 years, on the same routes, with the same kind of proximity [to Britain]. Everything depends on the context.” He went on: “There’s nothing unusual in it. Just after the fall of the Soviet Union the west got used to Russia not doing anything.Because the situation has changed it is suddenly considered a threat. They got it into their heads that it was a collapsed economy with a destroyed army and so on.” Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff said the flights were nothing new but appeared to be Russia flexing its muscles in front of Nato.