LONDON — The British Royal Air Force scrambled warplanes to intercept two Russian bombers off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday, as a government minister sounded alarms about the Kremlin’s intentions elsewhere in Europe.
The episode magnified concerns about the possibility of further moves by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that could draw in the NATO alliance after advances by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Typhoon warplanes took off from an air base in eastern England and escorted the two Russian airplanes in international airspace “until they were out of the U.K. area of interest,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The encounter happened on Wednesday.
“At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace,” the statement said. During the Cold War, Russian bombers routinely tested Western defenses by flying toward the coast, and there have been reports that the practice has been resumed as tensions have mounted over the conflict in Ukraine.
The number of intercepts of Russian military aircraft approaching Western airspace has tripled compared with 2013, British researchers said in November, citing NATO officials.
“I suspect what’s happening here is that the Russians are trying to make some sort of a point,” Prime Minister David Cameron said during a visit to eastern England, “and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response.”
The Russian flights came as Britain’s defense minister, Michael Fallon, said that Mr. Putin could replicate the tactics used in Ukraine on the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, former Soviet bloc countries that are now members of NATO.
“NATO has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia, whatever form it takes. NATO is getting ready,” Mr. Fallon said, adding that he was worried about Mr. Putin exerting “pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO.”
“You have tanks and armor rolling across the Ukrainian border and you have an Estonian border guard being captured and not yet still returned,” Mr. Fallon told reporters from The Times of London and The Daily Telegraph traveling with him on a visit to Sierra Leone.
Mr. Fallon also recalled an earlier intercept over the English Channel between Britain and France.
Mr. Putin “flew two Russian bombers down the English Channel two weeks ago.”
“We had to scramble jets very quickly to see them off,” Mr. Fallon continued. “It’s the first time since the height of the Cold War, it’s the first time that’s happened.”
“That just shows you, you need to respond, each time he does something like that, you need to be ready to respond,” he said.
“When you have jets being flown up the English Channel, when you have submarines in the North Sea, it looks to me like it’s warming up,” he said.
Mr. Fallon described Mr. Putin’s strategy as “a very real and present danger.”
“He was testing NATO all last year, if you look at the number of flights and the maritime activity,” he continued.
Mr. Fallon was also said to have asserted that Mr. Putin “is as great a threat to Europe as Islamic State,” a reference to militants fighting to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
In Moscow, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Russia would seek a way to respond to Mr. Fallon’s “absolutely unacceptable” remarks, which had gone beyond “diplomatic ethics,” Reuters reported.
After the earlier flights over the English Channel, the British government summoned the Russian ambassador to demand an explanation.
Russian military planes flying near British airspace caused “disruption to civil aviation,” the British Foreign Office said at the time, calling the maneuvers “part of an increasing pattern of out-of-area operations” by Russia.
Dismissing Britain’s concerns, the Russian ambassador said the patrols were routine.