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Russia scrambles jet to intercept UK spy plane: Defense Ministry

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo shows a British Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.

Russia's Defense Ministry says the country has been forced to scramble a fighter jet to intercept a British spy plane operating near Crimea.

"A British Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft attempted to approach the state border of the Russian Federation near the southwestern part of the Crimean peninsula," spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying about the Thursday development.

"In order to control its actions, a Russian Air Force Su-30 fighter jet from the on-duty force was lifted. At a distance of about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the state border. Russian Su-30 fighter jet approached the spy plane, after which the British plane changed its course away from the Russian border," he added.

In 2014, the then-Ukrainian territory of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty. The United States and its European have refused to recognize the referendum's results, later imposing sanctions on Moscow.

The Russian ministry said the overflight had been part of increased activity on the part of the Western military alliance of NATO that has also involved reconnaissance operations by two US warships and three other NATO spy planes over the previous 24 hours.

It said the suspicious uptick in such actions against the Russian Republic looked like an attempt by NATO to examine "a potential theater of war" in case Ukraine sought to take back by force its eastern Donbass region.

Also in 2014, a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Moscow government and replaced it with a Western-leaning administration.

The majority in those areas refused to endorse the new administration. This led to armed confrontations between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia forces, who declared self-proclaimed republics in the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk—collectively known as the Donbass.

Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow, however, denies the allegations.

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