RAF fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian bombers
(Close call: An RAF Typhoon intercepts a Russian bomber that had approached UK airspace)
This is the moment when the growing tension between Britain and Russia became almost tangible. Bombers approached British airspace at the weekend - and defence chiefs scrambled supersonic Eurofighter Typhoon jets to counteract the potential threat. The close encounter follows an announcement from Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, that bombers should resume the tactics of the Cold War, when incursions by long-range Soviet bombers testing UK air defences were a familiar routine. Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence released the picture of a Typhoon intercepting the Russian Bear-H bomber as proof of the Russian spy flights. It is the first time the Typhoon, Britain's most advanced warplane, has been seen in action against a potentially hostile target. The MoD would not specify the number of bombers, although there were thought to be more than one. The Russian planes had been detected approaching British airspace on Friday across the North Atlantic, at high altitude. Unlike commercial airliners, they filed no flight plan in advance. And as ground controllers grew increasingly concerned about their intentions, two Tornado fighters took off from RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, armed with air-to-air missiles. But the Russians refused to leave the area and the Tornadoes, running short on fuel, were replaced by a second pair. Then two of the Typhoons, from XI Squadron at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, were sent up. Eventually,the Russian aircrew turned for home - without crossing the line into UK air space. One RAF insider said: "It seems to be largely political - almost a statement of pride by the Russians, or Putin telling us not to take him for granted. "It's an old, old game which we played for years during the Cold War and now we're playing it. You can glean a certain amount of information about our defences this way, particularly if some helpful Russian chap stands outside the wire at Leeming or Coningsby and notes what time our aircraft take off. "Quite how all this really helps the Russians is another matter, but we take it seriously." The first known incident of this type in recent years was in May, when Russian spy planes flew from their base at Murmansk to watch a Nato naval exercise off the Scottish coast.
A Moscow FM radio station has informed the BBC's Russian Service that it will no longer carry the British broadcaster's programming. The holding company FINAM, which owns the Moscow station Big Radio, told the BBC that its broadcast license no longer permits it to rebroadcast programming from other media. Konstantin Eggert, editor in chief of the Moscow bureau of the BBC's Russian Service, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that this is not the first time the broadcaster has had problems broadcasting on FM. "The BBC has had problems with its broadcasts on FM earlier in Russia," Eggert said. "At the end of 2006, the Moscow radio station Radio Arsenal stopped broadcasting the BBC's programming. And in the beginning of 2007, Radio Leningrad in St. Petersburg also did this [removed BBC programming]. Radio Leningrad informed the BBC that local licensing authorities demanded that it remove the BBC's programming." The BBC said it intends to appeal the decision with Russia's federal broadcasting authorities. Big Radio was the last FM station in Russia to broadcast the BBC's programming. BBC still broadcasts in the Russian language on the Internet and on AM in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg.
From Russia with $3 billion. Another Putin opponent may have fled to London
(Oligarch Mikhail Gutseriyev)
Relations between Russia and Britain were facing fresh turbulence yesterday after a billionaire oligarch wanted by the Kremlin for tax evasion was reported to have escaped to London. Mikhail Gutseriyev - the former head of one of Russia's largest private oil firms - disappeared from Russia last week. On Tuesday a court in Moscow issued a warrant for his arrest. Last month Mr Gutseriyev stepped down from his oil company, RussNeft, citing "unprecedented bullying" by Vladimir Putin's government. Mr Gutseriyev - whose personal fortune is estimated at $3bn - accused the Kremlin of "illegally" forcing him out of business using trumped-up tax claims. Yesterday Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported that Mr Gutseriyev had fled to London, apparently taking his billions with him. Quoting "unofficial sources", the paper said he had slipped past Russian investigators and gone to the UK. Mr Gutseriyev's whereabouts was unclear last night. But the case has the potential to exacerbate the government's already brittle relations with Moscow. Mr Putin regularly denounces Britain as a haven for "criminals and terrorists" following Britain's refusal to send home the London-based former oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Numerous Russian dissidents and opponents of the Putin regime now live in London. They include Mr Berezovsky - who enjoys political asylum and is Mr Putin's biggest critic - the Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev, the former Kommersant journalist Yelena Tregubova, and executives from the bankrupt oil company Yukos. Last night prominent members of London's Russian community said there had been persistent rumours over the past few days that Mr Gutseriyev had fled Russia to set up in the UK. The Home Office refused to comment on the reports.
Mr Berezovsky said: "I know him and although I don't have an especially close relationship with him I will help if he gets in touch, although he will not need all that much help because he has big experience abroad and he has money." Mr Berezovsky said he expected more Russians to come to London because the UK's legal system offered protection from what he described as Russia's "gangster" government. Any application by Mr Gutseriyev for political asylum in the UK will infuriate the Kremlin. Mr Putin has already accused Britain of "stupidity" for trying to extradite Andrei Lugovoi - the former KGB agent charged with the murder and poisoning of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. Last month both countries expelled four of each other's diplomats. Mr Gutseriyev was last seen in Russia attending the funeral of his British-educated son, who died last week following a mysterious car crash, Kommersant reported. Chingiskhan Gutseriyev, 22, was educated at Harrow and Warwick University. He apparently died from trauma after possibly crashing his Ferrari. Police and hospitals in Moscow, however, say they have no record of a crash.
Mr Gutseriyev's woes appear to have started after he bought up assets from the oil firm Yukos. On July 30 he published a damning letter accusing the Russian authorities of using regulation as a pretext to grab back oil and gas assets from Russian and western companies. He wrote: "They made me an offer to leave the oil business, to leave on 'good terms'. I refused. Then, to make me more amenable, they tightened the screws on the company with unprecedented persecution." The letter marked the most significant public challenge to Mr Putin from a leading businessman since the imprisonment four years ago of the former chairman of Yukos Oil, Mikhail Khordorkovsky. Khordorkovsky was jailed for eight years in 2004 for tax evasion and fraud. The case was widely seen as political punishment for his refusal to stop funding anti-Kremlin opposition parties ahead of 2004 elections. The oligarch, once Russia's richest man, is now in jail in Siberia. Yesterday Russian newspapers dubbed Mr Gutseriyev a "second Mikhail" - a reference to Khordorkovsky. They predicted that, like Yukos, his RussNeft oil empire would be swiftly dismantled, sold off, and most probably absorbed into a new state-run firm. Russian investigators have already seized the firm and accuse Mr Gutseriyev of failing to pay $800m in tax. Mr Gutseriyev, 47, was one of Russia's most successful Muslim businessmen, and according to Forbes magazine is Russia 31st richest man. Last month he announced that following government pressure he was selling his firm to the pro-Kremlin oligarch and billionaire tycoon Oleg Deripaska. Yesterday Kommersant said the deal had already gone through - with Mr Gutseriyev pocketing $3bn.