A statement from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said tensions with the West over Ukraine is requiring Russia to conduct regular long-range bomber patrol missions as well as increase its presence in the Crimea, the annexed Black Sea Peninsula.
According to CBS News, his announcement came just as NATO’s chief commander accused Moscow of sending new troops and tanks into Ukraine. Shoigu denied the allegations, calling them unfounded.
“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 defense systems and troops. His statement called the situation a “severe threat to the cease-fire.”
During Cold War times, Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers made regular patrols across the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. Due to a reduction in funds, the patrols were cut back but resumed again under President Vladimir Putin’s tenure.
Yahoo News reported that a senior U.S. military official stated that Russia had not previously flown “actual” bomber patrols over the Gulf of Mexico, not even 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. He reiterated that the important thing was that the patrols were made in a safe manner and within the guidelines of international standards.
Shoigu said Russia has been talking with other countries, trying to make agreements to use their air bases for refueling stations for the long-range bombers. Earlier in the year, he had announced that the country was seeking permission for its Navy ships to use ports in Asia, Latin America and others to use for maintenance and replenishing of supplies.
CBS News reported earlier in the week that the European Leadership Network had issued a report that found a sharp rise in Russian-NATO military encounters since the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. These incidents included close encounters at sea, narrowly avoided midair collisions, and violations of national airspace, as well as Russian mock bombing raid missions.
Ian Kearns, Director of the ELN, said the bomber patrols are part of Russia’s efforts to make their military “more visible and more assertive in its actions.” However, he added, “The more instances you have of NATO and Russian forces coming close together, the more chance there is of having something bad happening, even if it’s not intentional.”
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said that this week they have seen “columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine.”
While the Russian Defense Ministry rejected Breedlove’s statement as groundless, the General said the Russia-Ukraine border is “completely wide open” and “forces, money, support, supplies, and weapons are flowing back and forth.”