MOSCOW – In a show of military muscle amid tensions with the West, Russia will send long-range strategic bombers on regular patrol missions across the globe, from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, a top official said Wednesday.
The announcement by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu came as NATO’s chief 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,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “We assess that this significant military buildup includes Russian artillery, tanks, air defence systems and troops. His statement called the situation a “severe threat to the cease-fire.”
Shoigu said Russian long-range bombers will conduct flights along Russian borders and over the Arctic Ocean. He 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.”
He said the Russian air force’s long-range planes also will conduct “reconnaissance missions to monitor foreign powers’ military activities and maritime communications.”
A senior U.S. military official said Russia has not previously flown actual bomber patrols over the Gulf of Mexico, including during the Cold War.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to call this a Russian provocation. He said the Russians have a right, like any other nation, to operate in international airspace and in international waters.
The bomber patrol flights have resumed under President Vladimir Putin’s tenure, and they have become 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.”
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, the report said, 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.
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