The Guardian 5 September, 2007

The Russians are flying — again



"Our pilots have been sitting around for too long and are happy to resume" commented President Putin in announcing that Russia is to resume long distance strategic reconnaissance flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic oceans. They will be able to "suddenly appear" off the coasts of the US, Britain, the Philippines and Australia according to a statement by a former commander of these long distance aircraft. (Australia may be mentioned because it is home to Pine Gap one of the most important US strategic military directional and listening posts.)

Vladimir Putin’s announcement came after large scale military manoeuvres which involved Russian and Chinese military and air forces, and those from five central Asian republics — formerly republics of the Soviet Union. The exercises were called "Peace Mission 2007".

Strategic flights

The strategic flights first started in 1980 at the time of the Cold War and were suspended in 1992 in the days of the Yeltsin regime. However, NATO did not stop its patrols then or since.

The Russian resumption of these patrols after 15 years is an important event not just for Russia but for the world as well, the Russian media noted. Step by step, Moscow is not only proving its ability to defend its sovereignty but it is also resuming its geo-political position. While the US media response has so far been low key, a former US commander of similar air forces commented that we may soon wake up to the fact that while we won the Cold War we have lost the peace.

Weapons

The planes involved can carry a variety of weapons including winged multi-warhead missiles with a range of 3,000 kms and an accuracy of 1cm over that distance the media claimed. Furthermore, the missiles can change altitude in flight and take into account the topo­graphy of the land over which they are flying. They cannot be shot down by the currently available missile systems that the US intends to install in the Czech Republic and Poland. The planes can fly more than 12,000 km after leaving Russia’s borders and can stay aloft for up to 22 hours if refuelled while in the air.

One Russian media outlet reported that President Putin attended the most recent test of three of these missiles and that they passed through the window of a cottage known to be a meeting place of terrorists. It is not reported whether any terrorists were at home at the time!

The Russian media said that the main reason for this step is Russia’s wish to show that it has a response to any situation including a military one. If the US wants to install missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, NATO has to get used to the idea that Russia’s strategic aviation is quite close.

The planes were described as having the role of delivering the first blow if there were to be a military attack. The media says that after delivering a first response, atomic submarines would then "finish off" the blow delivered by the aircraft.

The joint military manoeuvres with China were followed by a meeting of the heads of state of the seven Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) members and representatives of six other countries with observer status — India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan. Taken together, these countries contain about half the world’s population, have enormous resources and economic clout and possess a huge pool of scientific and technological know-how. They occupy a very favourable strategic location in terms of geographical position. All these factors indicate that the SCO will wield considerable influence throughout the rest of the world and this will not be limited to Asia.

The SCO meeting discussed mutual political and trade issues. Trade is rapidly increasing between the countries of the organisation. Infrastructure projects such as railroads, roads, oil and gas pipelines are either on the drawing boards or are already being built. Some of the important suppliers of oil and gas, which are located in the former southern republics of the Soviet Union, have indicated that they will in future export these commodities through pipelines traversing Russia.

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