Destabilizing conditions abound.
Potemkin bomber patrols
Russian news agencies aren’t trumpeting Russian long-range bomber patrols for English-speaking consumption as they once did. But they are still reporting the patrols, at least sometimes. And the terms in which the latest one was reported hark back to the days when Pravda (“truth”) was synonymous with “blatant lie.”
This is how the Voice of Russia recounted a patrol by two Tu-95MS (Bear) bombers “near the Aleutian Islands” in late May (emphasis added):
“Joint Russian and Canadian air force patrol completed”
The crews of the Russian Far East Air Force have successfully fulfilled air patrol tasks.
According to an air force spokesman, two Tupolev-95MS propjet strategic rocket launchers took off from an air base in the Amur Region and flew over neutral waters in the Pacific near the Aleutian Islands.
The flights were used to hone piloting skills in the absence of reference points and underway refuelling. The flight lasted for 17 hours.
At certain points of the patrol the Russian combat aircraft were accompanied by CF-18 fighter jets of the Canadian Air Force.
Presumably, the air force spokesman is the one who characterized the combat intercept by the Canadian fighters as “accompanying” the Russian aircraft on a “joint patrol.” But Voice of Russia accepted the description without demur, at the very least. Barack Obama should have such a friendly press.
In January, the Russian air force spokesman briefed another Aleutian patrol by Tu-95s. The USAF F-22s that intercepted the bombers on that occasion were described – according to Chinese media – as having been “tracked and monitored” by the Russian aircraft during the flight.
They undoubtedly were. But, of course, the significance of their presence was that they were conducting a combat intercept of the Russian bombers. The Russian info-themery going on is something we haven’t seen to quite this level of mendacity for a long while. Russian authorities, through air force press announcements, are issuing false depictions of the combat intercepts their bombers encounter.
“Why” is a good question. The implication of the latest press announcement, in particular, is that bomber patrols near the Aleutians are a joint operation with Canada (or perhaps with the forces of NORAD, jointly manned by Canada and the US and sharing responsibilities for the air defense of the continent). This implication is farcical to the point of surreal, given Canada’s grave security concerns about Russian military activities in the Arctic.
From a patrol route heading to and from the Aleutians, however, Russian bombers could hit China and Japan (and South Korea) as well as the US and Canada. Which audience might the Russians be trying to impress with their military links to the North American nations?
That too is an interesting question. Since last year, Russia has been rattling a saber at Japan over the disputed Kuril Islands off Japan’s northern coast, whose status has remained unsettled since the end of World War II. In late 2010, Dmitry Medvedev made an unprecedented visit to the Kurils, following the largest military exercise in the Russian Far East since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has visited again in 2011, and his military is planning to modernize and beef up the long-neglected Soviet-era weapons installations in the islands.
Reports earlier this year indicated the Russians plan to deploy a modern air defense system to the Kurils. If they put the state-of-the-art S-400 on one of the islands (or even a newer version of the S-300), the anti-air missiles would have the range to hit aircraft operating over Japanese territory.
But Russia isn’t likely to view Japan as a looming threat in her own right, in urgent need of being held at risk. Besides being on a declining demographic glide-path and having unsustainable public entitlement obligations, Japan has taken a real national hit from the March earthquake and reactor meltdown.
It is more probable that the Russians’ concern is to strengthen their overall strategic position because of the growing threat posed by China, and the relative decline in the counterbalancing strength of the US and Japan.
Continued in Part 2.