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September 5, 2007

Is Moscow revisiting Soviet era?

By

Despite consistent Kremlin claims that Moscow isn't trying to resurrect the Cold War, a landslide of Soviet-style actions over the last few weeks is doing a pretty darn good job of indicating the exact opposite.

One of the frostiest events was President Vladimir Putin's announcement a little over a week ago that Russia's nuclear bombers were resuming regular long-range patrols on a "permanent basis" after a 15-year hiatus.

In fact, British Tornado and Norwegian F-16 fighters had already escorted the newly-started Russian flights off their coasts going back to mid-July -- and the Americans launched to meet the Russians en route to U.S. bases on Guam earlier this month.

But Putin's announcement made it in-your-face official. And that same day, Russia launched 14 such bombers on patrols well beyond Russian borders -- with the defense ministry claiming the missions were over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.

Again, this was regular Soviet behavior right up to the fall of Communism. Tu-95 "Bear" bomber/reconnaissance aircraft flew regular missions along the U.S. East Coast, as well as Pacific missions against U.S. forces in Alaska and Asia.

Putin insisted that suspension of such bomber flights in 1992 had undermined Russia's security. Other nations, he noted, had continued such missions despite the Cold War's end -- a plain reference to the United States' global reconnaissance program.

More pointedly, he made those comments on the closing day of joint war games of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Russia's Ural Mountains involving 6,000 soldiers -- ending a week of seemingly successful counterterrorism exercises in a mock village. (The SCO consists of Russia, China and four Central Asian states. Some consider it, perhaps prematurely, to be a Eurasian counterweight to NATO and the United States -- "NATO with oil.")

Moscow's military buildup also continues apace. The Russian armed forces are receiving a major injection of cash -- mostly thanks to profits from nationalized Russian oil and gas firms - to overcome years of abject neglect.

At the Moscow Air Show last week, Russia strutted its stuff by unveiling a full-sized mock-up of a pilot-less, stealth bomber, known as the "Skat" (no giggling -- it means Stingray), which designers claim will out-stealth the current U.S. B-2 bomber.

In addition, senior Russian aides said that Moscow would re-start regular production of Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers -- now that they are flying "combat missions" for the purposes of "nuclear deterrence."

A week ago, a senior Russian general warned Prague about hosting a U.S. missile-defense system on its territory, encouraging the Czechs to hold off on any decisions about stationing the missile shield until after the '08 U.S. presidential elections.

And, on top of Russia's recent controversial submarine forays to the seabed under the North Pole, the Russian Navy chief recently called for the re-establishment of a permanent Mediterranean naval base. (Some think the Syrian port of Tartus is under consideration).

The Kremlin also pulled the plug on local broadcasts of the BBC. Authorities claim there were licensing problems, but insiders see the souring of relations between London and Moscow as a result of the Litvinenko poisoning case as the probable cause. Either way, the Kremlin's decision is rather reminiscent of the Iron Curtain era, when the likes of the Voice of America and the BBC were jammed in the Soviet Union.

Putin has also reportedly ordered a new series of "patriotic" textbooks, seemingly intended to whitewash the dirty deeds of the Soviet past for a new generation of already nationalistic Russian youth -- just in time for the new school year.

Does all this add up to a new Cold War? Not necessarily, at least for the moment. But as Putin's recidivism gathers momentum, the gap dividing Russia and the West continues to widen.

It all sends a very strong message: Putin's Russia is determined to restore its standing on the world stage, through whatever domestic or international means are necessary, even if that means fostering a deep freeze -- if not a new Cold War -- with the West.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Peter Brookes is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense.

First appeared in the China Post

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