In yet another sign of Russia rebuilding its military back to world-power caliber, its long-range bombers will patrol the globe, including the Gulf of Mexico.
Vladimir Isachenkov reports for the Associated Press and the Canadian Press that on Nov. 12, 2014, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia will send long-range strategic bombers on regular patrol missions across the globe, from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
The announcement came as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of sending fresh troops and tanks into eastern Ukraine: “Over the last few days, we have seen multiple reports of large convoys moving into Eastern Ukraine. We assess that this significant military buildup includes Russian artillery, tanks, air defence systems and troops.”
Jens Stoltenberg (Source: A New World Order)
Moscow denied the allegation as unfounded, but Shoigu said the dispute with the West over Ukraine would require Russia to beef up its forces in the Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula that Russia annexed in March.
Russian long-range bombers will conduct flights along Russian borders and over the Arctic Ocean. Shoigu said, “In the current situation we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.” The Russian air force’s long-range planes also will conduct “reconnaissance missions to monitor foreign powers’ military activities and maritime communications.”
Shoigu would not say how frequent the patrol missions would be or offer any other specifics, but he noted that the increasing pace and duration of flights would require stronger maintenance efforts and that relevant directives have been issued to industries. Russia plans to expand its worldwide military presence by seeking permission for navy ships to use ports in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for replenishing supplies and doing maintenance. Shoigu said the military was conducting talks with Algeria, Cyprus, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, Seychelles, Vietnam and Singapore. Russia also is talking to some of those countries about allowing long-range bombers to use their air bases for refuelling.
A senior U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the flights publicly, said Russia has not previously flown actual bomber patrols over the Gulf of Mexico, including during the Cold War. Long-range bombers have been in the area before, but only to participate in various visits to the region when the aircraft stopped over night at locations in South or Central America. During the Cold War, other types of Russian aircraft flew patrols there, including surveillance flights and anti-submarine aircraft.
The official also said the pace of Russian flights around North America, including the Arctic, have largely remained steady, with about five incidents per year.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to call this a Russian provocation, noting that the Russians have a right, like any other nation, to operate in international airspace and in international waters. The important thing is for such exercises to be carried out safely and in accordance with international standards.
Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers were making regular patrols across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans during Cold War times, reaching areas from which nuclear-tipped cruise missiles could be launched at the United States. But that stopped in the post-Soviet economic meltdown.
Under President Vladimir Putin, the bomber patrol flights have resumed, becoming even more frequent in recent weeks, with NATO reporting a spike in Russian military flights over the Black, Baltic and North seas as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think-tank , said the bomber patrols are part of Kremlin’s efforts to make the Russian military “more visible and more assertive in its actions.” He does not see Russia’s new bomber flights as “presaging a threat,” but as “just part of a general ramping-up of activities.” However, Kearns recognizes that “The more instances you have of NATO and Russian forces coming close together, the more chance there is of having something bad happening, even if it’s not intentional.”
On Monday, the European Leadership Network issued a report that found a sharp rise in Russian-NATO military encounters since the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea, including violations of national airspace, narrowly avoided midair collisions, close encounters at sea, harassment of reconnaissance planes, close overflights over warships, and Russian mock bombing raid missions. Three of the nearly 40 incidents carried a “high probability” of causing casualties or triggering a direct military confrontation: a narrowly avoided collision between a civilian airliner and a Russian surveillance plane, the abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer, and a large-scale Swedish hunt for a suspected Russian submarine that yielded no result.
In September, the report said, Russian strategic bombers in the Labrador Sea off Canada practiced cruise missile strikes on the U.S. Earlier this year, in May, Russian military aircraft approached within 50 miles (80 kilometres) of the California coast, the closest such Russian military flight reported since the end of the Cold War.
Russia-West ties have dipped to their lowest point since Cold War times over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russia insurgents in Ukraine. The West and Ukraine have continuously accused Moscow of fueling the rebellion in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons — claims Russia has rejected. Fighting has continued in the east, despite a cease-fire agreement signed between Ukraine and the rebels signed in Minsk, Belarus, in September.
Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, urged Russia to “pull back its forces and equipment from Ukraine, and to fully respect the Minsk agreements.”
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said Wednesday that the Russia-Ukraine border is “completely wide open.” In the last two days “we have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine.” But Breedlove wouldn’t say how many new troops and weapons have moved into Ukraine or specify how the alliance obtained the information.
The Russian Defence Ministry quickly rejected Breedlove’s statement as groundless.