January 17, 2018 / 12:38 PM / 4 months ago

Russia scolds Britain for casting it as an aggressor after jets scrambled

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia scolded Britain on Wednesday for casting it as an aggressor and said Prime Minister Theresa May was more interested in public rhetoric than dealing with the real threats facing the West.

Britain scrambled two Royal Air Force Typhoon jets on Monday to intercept Russian planes near the United Kingdom’s airspace, a defense ministry spokesman said, the latest incident where British forces had been deployed because of concern over a Russian military incursion.

When asked for comment on the maneuvers, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in London said such statements from the British defense ministry were part of a public relations exercise aimed at undermining Russia’s image.

“We consider these and similar statements as a PR exercise, meant to demonstrate some assumed ‘aggressiveness’ from Russia, as well as panache of certain British politicians,” the embassy said in a statement in English.

“No incursion into UK airspace has ever taken place, and no Russian plane has been forced to land or even change its course,” it said. “Russian planes carry out the routine flights in international airspace.”

Relations between Russia and Britain are strained. May last year accused Moscow of military aggression and in December, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there was abundant evidence of Russia meddling in foreign elections.

The Kremlin, which under Vladimir Putin has clawed back some of the global influence lost when the Soviet Union collapsed, has denied meddling in elections in the West. It says anti-Russian hysteria is sweeping through the United States and Europe.

“We will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity,” May said in a speech at the Guildhall in London’s financial district on Nov. 13.

The Russian embassy said May was speaking about vigilance without dealing with the real threats, which it didn’t specify.

“This imitation game, in the pattern of PM Theresa May’s speech ... is about showing off vigilance rather than dealing with real threats,” the embassy spokesman said.

Earlier this month, a British frigate escorted Russian ships near UK territorial waters following a similar deployment over the Christmas period and Britain regularly scrambles fighters to intercept Russian aircraft near its airspace.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Stephen Addison

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