Viral Photo of Russian Bomber Shows Incident from 2020

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Quick Take

Amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, a misleading photo posted March 22 on Facebook shows an American fighter jet intercepting a Russian bomber near Alaskan airspace. But the incident was not related to the current situation in Ukraine; the photo appeared in an article published in Aero Magazine in June 2020.


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Friction between the U.S. and Russia has been increasing in recent weeks as sanctions and negotiations failed to get Russia to abandon its assault on Ukraine that began on Feb. 24. 

Amid international fears of escalation and possible world war, a misleading photo shared on Facebook on March 22 wrongly implies that a Russian bomber recently approached U.S. airspace and was intercepted by an American fighter jet.

The caption of the post, written in Spanish, reads: “El Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor intercepta al bombardero ruso Tupolev Tu-95MS ‘Bear’ cerca del espacio aéreo de Alaska,” which translates to: “Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor intercepts Russian Tupolev Tu-95MS ‘Bear’ bomber near Alaskan airspace.”

One comment on the post, translated from Spanish to English, reads, “Definitely no one would win in a nuclear war…” Another comment reads, “The United States is not shooting it down because it knows it will make … goodbye world.”

But the photo is not related to the current conflict.

In an email to FactCheck.org, Erin Eaton, chief of media operations at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the 673d Air Base Wing in Anchorage, Alaska, pointed us to the photo’s publication on June 23, 2020, in Aero Magazine. That article, which is in Spanish, said that the U.S. had intercepted four Russian bomber formations in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone in the span of one week in June 2020.

Incidents of Russian aircraft approaching or crossing into U.S. airspace — and vice versa — have occurred in recent years.

In 2019, North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said that it has “intercepted” six or seven Russia military aircraft annually “since Russia resumed long range aviation patrols in 2007.”

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on April 14, 2021, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command, said that in 2020 “NORAD responded to more Russian military flights off the coast of Alaska than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War.”

In March 2021, two Russian Tu-142 aircraft entered the Alaskan ADIZ — the second such incident up to that point last year, according to Air Force Magazine. Those aircraft were tracked, because they were operating in international airspace, NORAD said in a March 29, 2021, press release, which made no mention of the aircraft being intercepted.

Earlier this month, Air Force Magazine reported that U.S. Air Force and Navy participated in training exercises off Alaska’s coast as part of NORAD’s Operation Noble Defender. There was no mention in the March 17 article, however, of any recent incidents of Russian aircraft entering airspace over Alaska.

We reached out to NORAD for comment on whether there had been any recent incidents involving Russian aircraft in U.S. airspace, but didn’t hear back. We will update this story if we learn more from NORAD.

The most recent incident we could find occurred in October, when five Russian jets approached but didn’t cross into Alaskan airspace. We could find no reports of such incidents since the war in Ukraine began. 

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.  

Sources

BBC News. “Ukraine tensions: US trying to draw Russia into war, Putin says.” 2 Feb 2022.

Cole, Brendan. “Five Russian Jets Buzz Alaska Airspace as NATO and Moscow Tensions Spike.” Newsweek. 22 Oct 2021.

Eaton, Erin. Media operations section chief at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the 673d Air Base Wing in Anchorage, Alaska. Email to FactCheck.org. 24 Mar 2022.

Madani, Doha. “World War III ‘may have already started’ with Russian invasion, Zelenskyy says.” NBC News. 16 Mar 2022.

Martinez, Luis. “Russian bombers intercepted 8 miles from US airspace.” ABC News. 10 Jun 2020.

Maynes, Charles. “After a week of failed diplomatic efforts, tension between Russia and the U.S. builds.” NPR. 15 Jan 2022.

Mizokami, Kyle. “Russian Planes Keep Flying Near Alaska and Stretching the Air Force Thin.” Popular Mechanics. 30 April 2021.

New York Times. “U.S. Will Reply to Russian Demands as Military Buildups Continue Around Ukraine.” Updated 20 Mar 2022.

Suri, Manveena and Olga Pavlova. “Russian fighter jets escorted US Air Force bomber after it reportedly approached Russian airspace.” CNN. 26 Sep 2021.

 

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