'Back Off and Stay Out Of Our Airspace.'

(cross posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Four Canadian and U.S. fighter jets were scrambled to meet two Russian bomber planes found flying on the edge of Canada's Arctic airspace hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Ottawa for his first foreign visit, Canada's Defence Minister, Peter MacKay said yesterday.

The incident occurred Feb. 18, about 24 hours before Obama travelled to Canada for his first foreign visit.  Canadian CF-18 fighter jets were scrambled from Cold Lake, Alta., to intercept the long-range Tupolev TU-95s and signal them to back off, MacKay told reporters in Ottawa.  While he noted that the Russian flight took place when Canada's security focus was on Ottawa, in preparation for the Obama visit. "I am not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence which we met with the presence ... of F-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business and send a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our airspace," he told reporters.

In Moscow, an unnamed government official called MacKay's statement a "farce" and said the Russian government was reacting to Canada's objections with "astonishment," news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the incident was a real cause for concern that will not intimidate Canada.  "This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond. We will defend our airspace." The Russian planes broke no international laws when they encroached on the 200-mile (320-kilometre) Canadian perimeter, 190 kilometres northeast of Tuktoyaktuk, but experts say it is a clear attempt to test defence systems in the disputed Arctic territories.

NORAD spokesperson Michael Kucharek said Canadian and U.S. fighter jets have been scrambled more than 20 times since early 2007 to perform visual identification of Russian bombers and to direct them away from North American airspace.  "Russia has become more active than in the past," said Ray Henault, formerly Canada's chief of defence staff. Henault, who served as chair of NATO's military council until last year, said the bomber flights are a "legitimate activity" that have nonetheless complicated relations with other Arctic nations in recent years.

It's not clear why Canada chose yesterday to draw attention to what is a fairly common occurrence.  In addition, it's a diplomatic rebuff to Russian officials who have complained in the last week about nations "militarizing" the Arctic to bolster claims to valuable energy and mineral resources beneath the thawing tundra and the seabed.

"We know that the waters are opening up, we know that other countries have expressed interest in the Arctic and that we intend to have a very real and current activity and presence in the Arctic," MacKay said yesterday.  The Defence Minister added that he has asked Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Russia's ambassador to Canada to give Ottawa notice when such flights are planned.

"To date, we have not received this type of notice," he said.

Renuart has also asked Russian officials to file formal international notice of the flights, but to no avail, said Kucharek.  The RIA-Novosti agency quoted Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky, a defence ministry spokesperson, saying that neighbouring states had been previously notified of the bomber flight.

Opposition parties accused the Tories of using tough talk on Russia to shift the political debate away from mounting deficits and economic woes.  "Everything the government does in these circumstances is an effort to change the channel," Liberal MP Bob Rae said.

U.S. General Gene Renuart, commander of North American Aerospace Defence Command, said Canadian and U.S. jets have visually identified more than 20 Russian aircraft in recent years that were conducting exercises near North American airspace.

Mr. MacKay said the Russians have turned a deaf ear to his request for advance notice of such near incursions.

"It's not a game at all ... I have personally asked both the Russian ambassador and my counterpart [in Russia] that we are given a heads up when this type of air traffic is to occur, and to date we have not received that kind of notice."

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 crippled Russia's economy and brought such long-range flights, a staple of the Cold War, to an end. But the flights have resumed in recent years.

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The 2008 South Ossetia war in retrospective

We almost had to reset it during the Indo-Pak tensions as a result of Mumbai, but it looks like the world now has to replace its "4 months since the breakout of a regional war." The sad irony is the way in which media coverage of Russia's attack on Georgia lies in stark contrast with the passive silence of Israel's bombardment of Gaza. We had the narratives of "Putin = Hitler + Stalin + Russian Imperialism all in one" abounding when Saakasvhili bombed South Ossetia. Now the camera just rolls. Ironically, we even had denouncements of Russia responding with "overwhelming force." Where is the outrage of "overwhelming force" now?

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"We Can't Negotiate Nukes with a Black": Why the Kremlin Prefers McCain

As McCain campaign tactics sink back to gutter level, and our attentions turn to the next smear or attempt at voter suppression, this great diary by Ivan Krastev on The Motley Moose should remind us that there are bigots abroad who also want to see Obama fail: among these Putin and the Russian Oligarchy.

Yes, that's right. Whenever someone tells you that Obama will talk too much to enemies, and be soft on America's competitors, hear what a leading European political scientist has to say:

the Kremlin's elite with whom I have been discussing the coming American election are hard-core McCain supporters.

The well-known fact that Soviets have always preferred Republicans to the Democrats is not enough to explain "McCainmania" in the Kremlin. Russia's elite preference for McCain has different sources but four of them are worth mentioning: namely, race, class, strategic calculation and a love for lobbyists.

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You Mean She Actually Meant All That Stuff About Russian Aircraft In Alaska Airspace?

Reading this AP article, I had to smile at the deadpan manner in which the McCain campaign tries to clarify Sarah Palin's whole "Russia's proximity to Alaska gives me foreign policy credentials" thing.

You'll recall Palin's response to Katie Couric's question on the subject:

"When you consider even national security issues with Russia, as (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where -- where do they go? It's Alaska."

Well, the McCain campaign tried to clarify her remarks by reassuring everyone that in fact there's been no such incursion into Alaska airspace on Palin's watch.

The spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, Maria Comella, clarified in an e-mail to The Associated Press that when "Russian incursions near Alaskan airspace and inside the air defense identification zone have occurred ... U.S. Air Force fighters have been scrambled repeatedly."

The air defense identification zone, almost completely over water, extends 12-mile past the perimeter of the United States. Most nations have similar areas.

However, no Russian military planes have been flying even into that zone, said Maj. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

"To be very clear, there has not been any incursion in U.S. airspace in recent years," Herritage said.

I think what struck me so funny was that anyone would have even entertained the notion that Palin was speaking from actual experience rather than merely pulling something out of thin air to explain her ridiculous assertion away. Did anyone take her response seriously? Really? What's even stranger -- Palin may have actually meant it.

Asked about Herritage's statement, Palin's foreign policy adviser, Steve Biegun, insisted the candidate's position was correct. Russia's "old behaviors" of aggressively flying into U.S. airspace have been exhibited recently, he said.

"Governor Palin told me that when Russian aircraft buzz American airspace and U.S. aircraft are mobilized at Elmendorf Air Force Base, she is informed by her National Guard commander," said Biegun, who did not offer any additional explanation for the contradiction.

Either Sarah Palin actually believes something occurred that those in positions of authority insist did not, or she lies as much in private as she does in public.

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One-On-One With Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin Interview with CBS News' Katie Couric- Day 1

Sarah Palin Interview with CBS News' Katie Couric- Day 2

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Americans each have an opinion on Sarah Palin.  The Alaskan Governor has been the topic of conversation for weeks.  The Press pours over her record.  Average Americans read.  Some say she is sensational.  Sarah Palin has sizzle.  Many hockey Moms relate to the woman who worked her way up.  Governor Palin has cracked the glass ceiling.  She has become a celebrity of sorts.  

Several scorn the lovely lady.  Others imitate the daughter of Eve.  No one disputes, Sarah Palin has style.  Yet, few have the opportunity to make an informed judgment.  Less are able chat one-on-one with the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.  Fortunately, two did.  First Lady Laura Bush shares her thoughts after a conversation with Palin.  ABC News Anchor, Katie Couric offers an objective view.  Only a read from interviews with Ms Bush or Ms Couric reveals what each might think.  Please peruse the reflections and dear reader, decide for yourself.  Who might Sarah Palin be to you.

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Diaries

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