Intelligence: May 6, 2002


: According to the 26 April Washington Times, two Tu-95 "Bear" H strategic nuclear bombers flew within 37 miles of Alaska recently in "a rare probe of U.S. air defenses". While the Russian bombers flew north along the coast of Alaska, the US Air Force scrambled two F-15s. They shadowed the propeller-driven bombers for a short time and then broke off.

Writers Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough pointed out that "the Russian bomber probe took place as U.S. and Russian officials in Moscow failed to reach the terms of a new accord on strategic arms reduction. It also took place amid recent criticism by officials in Moscow of U.S. intelligence-sharing on terrorism".

This is somewhat of an alarmist connection to make with the flight of the "Bears", since Moscow has made no secret that despite of its rapprochement with NATO, Russia does not intend to abandon its strategic deterrence capability. When the Kremlin could afford the fuel, the strategic bombers would make practice flights (which generally happens in March-April and September-November time frame). 

The Russian long-range strategic air force first resumed scheduled flights over the Arctic since 1990 on 30 November 2000, when seven Tu-95MS "Bear" strategic bombers (apparently, assets of the 37th Air Force) took off from their airfields in Engels (Saratov Region) and Ukrainka (Amur Region). This was primarily due to renewed aviation fuel shipments to these units. However, the fall 2001 exercises were severely curtailed after 11 September, in deference to the post-attack situation in the United States. 

The day after the Washington Times report, Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevskiy (an aide to the Russian air force's commander) told Interfax-Military News that their planes did not enter the air space of any other country during training flights. The two Tu-95MS bombers mentioned by the newspaper were "making planned flights within the framework of springtime tests". Drobyshevskiy also implied that American planes play the same games along Russia's border and that Russian fighters react in a similar manner (but the Russians don't make a big deal about it).

The two "Bears" (which the Russians refer to as 'strategic missile carriers') were part of a group of four recently deployed to the Anadyr air base, in the northern Far East of Russia. Less than a week before the 'incident', Russian RTV had aired a program on a Bear's 14-hour combat mission from a special-purpose airfield at Dyagilevo in Ryazan.

Gertz and Scarborough simply reported what unnamed US intelligence sources told them, with the implication that Moscow was sending the White House a subtle message. Did these "unnamed sources" simply not recognize what the Russians were doing, or did they have some bone to pick with the Kremlin? Perhaps someone in the CIA resented the recent Russian criticism that the quality of Langley's Afghanistan reports sent to Moscow wasn't up to par. - Adam Geibel

Russian air force denies entering US air space, AVN, 27 Apr 02 
Inside the Ring, Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, 26 Apr 02
"Vesti Nedeli" news program: Russian strategic bombers fly on training exercise to North Pole, Russia TV RTR, 21 Apr 02


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