US shrugs off Russia's resumption of strategic air patrols

Friday, August 17, 2007

The United States on Friday shrugged off Russia's decision to resume long-range strategic bomber flights, merely saying it was an "interesting" move.

"If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again that's their decision," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He was commenting after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would immediately resume long-range strategic bomber flights on a "permanent" basis, ending its 15-year suspension of such missions.

"That is a decision for them to take; it's interesting," McCormack added.

The announcement came days after Moscow said its strategic bombers had begun exercises over the North Pole, and just a week after Russian planes flew within a few hundred kilometers (miles) of a US military base on the island of Guam.

"We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Sovet Union. It's a different era," McCormack said.

A top US commander said Tuesday that the long-range Russian bombers were flying more often and closer to US territory.

General Gene Renuart, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and US Northern Command, the agencies charged with protecting US and Canadian airspace, said US forces would continue to monitor the activity.

"Over the last few months the Russian air force has been flying a little bit more than we've seen in the past; certainly they're ranging farther than they have in the more recent past," Renuart said in a statement.

"NORAD has intercepted them out over international waters, near Alaska, and the command continues to monitor all of their long range bomber flight activity, even today," he added.

In the five-day exercises over the North pole that began Tuesday, the nuclear-capable bombers practised firing cruise missiles, navigation in the polar region and aerial refueling maneuvers, the Russian air force said in a statement.

Last week, several Russian strategic bombers flew over the Pacific to near Guam and, according to a Russian general, exchanged grins with US fighter pilots.

The incident capped a summer in which Putin has sought to project power far and wide, building on a rearmament programme fueled by oil and gas revenues.

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