Russia restores Soviet-era strategic bomber patrols

By RIA Novosti

Chebarkul (Russia) : Russia has permanently resumed long-distance patrol flights of strategic bombers, which were suspended in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Vladimir Putin said.

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“I made a decision to restore flights of Russian strategic bombers on a permanent basis, and at 00:00 today (Friday), Aug 17, 14 strategic bombers, support aircraft and aerial tankers were deployed. Combat duty has begun, involving 20 aircraft,” Putin said.

The president, speaking on the final day of military exercises involving Russia, China and four Central Asian countries in the south Urals, said that on the first day of patrol flight, bomber planes would spend about 20 hours in the air, with midair refuelling, and would interact with naval forces.

“Air patrol areas will include zones of commercial shipping and economic activity. As of today, combat patrolling will be on a permanent basis. It has a strategic character,” Putin said.

The president said that although the country stopped strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, “unfortunately, not everyone followed our example.” Other states’ long-distance strategic patrol flights have created certain problems for national security, he said.

“We act on the assumption that our partners will treat with understanding the resumption of strategic air flights. Our pilots have been grounded for too long. There is strategic aviation, but there are no flights,” Putin said.

Leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are in Russia’s Chelyabinsk Region for the final day of Peace Mission 2007 counter-terrorism exercises, which began Aug 9. The drills have involved about 6,000 servicemen from member states Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Uzbekistan.

A former Russian air force chief said the resumption of patrols would strengthen Russia’s defense capability.

Army Gen. Pyotr Deinekin highlighted the new potential security threats Russia faces, saying NATO fighters were based in the Baltic states – that were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union and now EU members – while radar stations are being built around Russia’s borders.

“Flights will be conducted on the same basis as they were in the past,” Deinekin said.

Washington played down the significance of Russian strategic bomber flights. “That’s a decision for them to take,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

“It’s interesting. We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union. It’s a different era. 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,” the spokesman said.