WASHINGTON, D.C.: Russian warplanes last week flew a series of missions near Alaska, prompting the North American air defense agency to scramble US and Canadian jets, officials said on Monday. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Pentagon said Tu-95 Bear bombers were spotted in international air space on three occasions — twice near the Aleutian Islands and once near mainland Alaska and Canada. The bomber missions occurred April 17, 18 and 20, and on two occasions NORAD launched fighters to conduct “safe and professional” intercepts. Mid-air interceptions are routine in international air space, and Russian jets frequently scramble to fly alongside US spy planes in and around the Baltic Sea and near Russia. But Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said there had been a lengthy pause in such operations off Alaska, possibly caused by the enormous, propeller-powered Tu-95s having been grounded due to maintenance issues. “This was the first time in about two and a half years that we have seen Russia conduct long-range bomber missions like this in and around Alaska,” Davis said.