The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed last night the two aircraft were dispatched from RAF Leuchars yesterday afternoon after the Russian presence was detected.
A defence spokesman described the incident: “Typhoon quick reaction alert aircraft were launched from RAF Leuchars to determine the identity of unknown aircraft that approached the Nato air policing area north of Scotland and could not be identified by other means.
“The aircraft were subsequently identified as Russian military aircraft.
“The Russian military aircraft remained in international airspace at all times as they are perfectly entitled to do so.
“Russian military flights have never entered UK sovereign airspace without authorisation.”
The RAF jets were scrambled when a request came from UK aviation authorities who had tried to make contact with the Russian aircraft.
The Typhoons were said to have acted as a “visual deterrent” – regarded as a show of force – and flew parallel to them until the Russian planes flew off. It is believed that the two bombers were Tupolev-95s, known by Nato as “Bears”, and had turned away and flown towards Scandinavia after being contacted by the British jets.
Defence experts say Russia uses such surveillance flights to “test” air defence systems and response times. In 2013 there were eight recorded similar incidents.
However, the incident comes at a time of heightened tension between Russian and the West following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the country’s reported involvement in fuelling unrest in the eastern cities of Ukraine.
The Royal Navy had dispatched HMS Dragon, a Type 45 destroyer, after the English- speech news channel Russia Today announced on 15 April that the Vice Admiral Kulakov, a large Russian destroyer, would be sailing off the UK’s coast.
The Portsmouth-based Dragon, normally used in air defence, was sent north three days later to track the vessel.
Describing the operation as “planned”, the MoD said that deploying the ship off the north of Scotland was a “well-established and standard response to such events”.
Captain Iain Lower, the commanding officer of HMS Dragon, said: “For a mission like this, it is not about sending any ship.
“We need speed, we need endurance, and as the weather can be atrocious, sea-keeping is all important.
“The Russian navy is a very capable force and it is right that the Royal Navy sends a ship that is credible and none are more so than the Type 45 destroyer. With the world’s best air defence radars, Dragon’s sensors are able to monitor UK airspace and sea lanes of communication at very long range.”
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond last night said both operations should not raise alarm. He said: “Recent events have increased awareness of Russian military activity, but we have always routinely intercepted, identified and escorted Russian air and naval assets that transit international airspace and waters within the UK’s ‘area of interest’.
“The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will remain alert and ready to intercept any non-Nato forces in the area.”