PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (Reuters) - Russian bombers are flying more missions than normal near U.S. territory, including Alaska, demonstrating their long-range strike capability, U.S. and Canadian officials said on Monday.
Russian aircraft carrying cruise missiles ran an aviation exercise near Alaska two weeks ago, according to Canadian Col. Andre Dupuis, an officer at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a U.S.-Canadian operation responsible for protecting both countries’ airspace.
“They didn’t do it to practice alone. They’re making a point, doing it outside of their normal training cycle,” he told Reuters. “They maintain capability.”
Russian bombers were also tracked last week flying a course toward Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific.
Some analysts and defense officials say the flights likely reflect Moscow’s desire to display its military muscle to remind Washington of Russia’s capabilities and express dismay over U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe.
One defense official called the Russian flights “a little bit of chest pounding, trying to let people know Russia’s back in the game.”
“Over the last probably three months or so the Russians have been flying their bomber force maybe a little bit more than we’ve seen in the past, certainly they’re ranging farther than they have in the past,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command.
“We’ve had a couple times where we’ve intercepted them out over international waters, near Alaska.”
Relations between Washington and Moscow have been strained, partly by U.S. plans to put missile defense assets in former Soviet-allied territory.
Since meeting with U.S. officials to discuss the missile shield plans earlier this year, Moscow has issued a series of statements about building its military power.
In July, President Vladimir Putin told his top military and security officials that Russia needed to boost its armed forces and intelligence potential in the face of new security threats, including U.S. military plans in Europe.
Russia’s navy chief has also said his country should have a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean, mirroring the Soviet Union’s military ambitions.
The head of long-range aviation in Russia’s air force last week described the bomber flight over Guam as a revival of the long-haul missions to U.S.-patrolled areas common during the Cold War.
But Renuart downplayed concern about the increase in Russian military flights.
“I think clearly there’s a political dynamic that’s occurring right now with Russia. They’re exercising I think some of their military capabilities coincident with some of the statements that have been made in the government,” he said.
“But it’s not provocative in any way. They follow the international rules. They’ve been very professional in how they’ve flown the flights, so I don’t see anything reckless in it.”
Renuart also said Russia’s military generally warns its U.S. counterparts in advance of training exercises.
“A couple times, it’s been a bit of a surprise,” he said.
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