According to news reports (here and here), two Russian Tu-95MS bombers flew to Guam yesterday, where Russian Major General Pavel Androsov said they “exchanged smiles” with the U.S. fighter pilots who scrambled to meet them. “It has always been the tradition of our long-range aviation to fly far into the ocean, to meet [U.S.] aircraft carriers and greet [U.S. pilots] visually,” Androsov told reporters today at a news conference. “Yesterday we revived this tradition, and two of our young crews paid a visit to the area of the base of Guam.”
Such long-haul (and politically charged) flights were common during the Cold War, but were suspended after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin, flush with oil money, has apparently ordered the flights to resume as part of a push to reinvigorate the Russian armed forces. Yesterday’s sortie began at a Russian airbase near Blagoveshchensk in the Far East and flew a 13-hour round trip to Guam. According to Reuters:
President Vladimir Putin has sought to make Russia more assertive in the world. Putin has boosted defense spending and sought to raise morale in the armed forces, which were starved of funding following the fall of the Soviet Union…
Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow office director of the Washington-based World Security Institute, said he saw nothing extraordinary in Moscow sending its bombers around the globe.
“This practice as such never stopped, it was only scaled down because there was less cash available for that,” he said.
“It doesn’t cost much to flex your muscles … You can burn fuel flying over your own land or you can do it flying somewhere like Guam, in which case political dividends will be higher.”
The bombers give Russia the capability of launching a devastating nuclear strike even if the nuclear arsenals on its own territory are wiped out.