Strategic aviation back on patrol
Russian President Vladimir Putin took care to avoid sounding combative, even though the timing of his statement took everyone by surprise.
“Russia unilaterally stopped its patrols in 1992. Unfortunately not everyone followed our example. This creates a security risk for Russia. At midnight 14 strategic bombers took off from 7 different airfields throughout Russia. We hope our partners show understanding towards our resumption of strategic aircraft patrols,” stated Russian President.
The Tu-95 is the Russian equivalent of the B-52, and both were developed during the Cold War.
Over the years it has performed a variety of functions, and famously dropped the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated in a 1961 test.
Now, they will regularly carry out patrol missions both inside and outside Russia's borders.
Here Russia is only keeping in step with its neighbours.
“The Americans fly constantly. We have not carried out patrol flights since 1992 or they occurred once a year or every two years. Now they’ve become more regular. Still, in comparison, the Americans carry out three or four patrol flights a week,” said Nikolay Baranov, an aviation expert.
And Russia is not showing off its offensive potential.
“If it is a common practice with countries like Russia, China and the United States, there can be no talk of aggression. These flights are for defence purposes,” added Nikolay Baranov.
Russia has also been trying to re-invigorate its plane-manufacturing industry.
The ageing fleet of Tu-95s needs to be replaced. The government hopes domestic demand will provide a foundation that can then be translated into international success.
However, it is impossible to strip the latest development of its context. One of George Bush's first moves as President was to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the U.S. plans to place part of its new missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, much to Russia's annoyance.
Subsequently Russia has withdrawn from other weapons limitation agreements.