Sunday, Sept 14, 2008
The Soviet glory days are back at this nuclear bomber base in southern Russia: the US is none too popular and the crews say they are ready to fly anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.
“It’s like the good old days,” Oleg Mikhailishchin, a pilot in camouflage uniform, told reporters during a rare visit by foreign media to the Engels base last month, before the war with Georgia further raised tensions with the West. More than 20 Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers could be seen on the runway near the Volga River at this once top-secret base, where the two Tu-160 “White Swan” planes that landed in Venezuela on Wednesday flew from.
Russia is also dispatching a nuclear cruiser and other warships and planes to the Caribbean for the joint exercises with Venezuela, seen as a direct rebuff to the United States in the first such deployment since the Cold War.
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Mikhailishchin spoke in a cafeteria dominated by a red Soviet emblem and a portrait of World War II commander Georgy Zhukov. The base was filled with a mixture of hi-tech equipment and crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure.
Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s president and now the prime minister, gave the order in August 2007 for the Russian air force to resume long-range bomber patrols — just like in the Cold War — after a lull of 15 years.