The commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific said Russia has “increased drastically” its long-range bomber patrols in northeast Asia as ties with America’s allies deteriorate over upheaval in Ukraine.
General Herbert Carlisle said an F-15 fighter jet had intercepted a Russian “Bear,” a designation for the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber, that flew toward Guam, where the U.S. has military facilities, east of the Philippines. He said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that Russia also had boosted maritime activity.
“What Russia is doing in Ukraine and Crimea has a direct effect on what is happening in Asia-Pacific,” Carlisle said, according to a video of his remarks yesterday. “Some of the things we’ve seen is their long-range aviation, and the increase in that. They’ve come with their long-range aviation out to the coast of California. They circumnavigated Guam.”
The news of a step-up in Russian pressure in the region follows U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit last month to Japan and South Korea, allies that host American bases.
Since overcoming the biggest protests of his 14-year-rule to win a third term in 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reasserted his power at home and abroad. Even at the risk of sanctions that could worsen what the International Monetary Fund has described as an economy in recession, Russians see his defiance of the West over Ukraine as a sign of strength, reinforcing his image as a leader who restored his country’s greatness from the post-Communism chaos of the 1990s.
“Ukraine and Crimea is a challenge for us, and it’s a challenge for us in the Asia-Pacific as well as Europe,” Carlisle said. “The number of long-range aviation patrols that have gone around the Japanese islands as well as around Korea have increased drastically.”
Russia’s ability to contribute to the development of the Asia-Pacific region has been “badly compromised” by its annexation of Crimea, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said at a briefing today in Hong Kong.
“It is unacceptable for large countries to use force against small neighbors with impunity and we look to the international community, including countries in the Asia-Pacific region, to send a strong signal to Russia that it should reverse course and use peaceful means to address its border disputes,” Russel said.
Putin’s demonstrations of strength prompted Japan to scramble fighter jets for seven consecutive days in April in response to what the Asian nation’s defense chief described as “abnormal” Russian flights. Minister Itsunori Onodera said the patrols were more frequent than during the Cold War, Kyodo reported. Russia responded that the flights were in accordance with international law and urged Japan to return to talks with Russia on avoiding dangerous military activity.
Japan will stage an island defense drill around its southwestern region starting May 10, the Defense Ministry said. The announcement followed a Voice of Russia report that China and Russia would hold a joint drill in the East China Sea in late May.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on April 29 also criticized Japan’s “clumsy” sanctions in response to events in Ukraine. It said in a statement that the penalties were imposed by the government in Tokyo under “external pressure,” while stopping short of specifying the U.S.
Carlisle said one of the challenges for the region was Russia’s lack of transparency on its military maneuvers. “What’s happening in Ukraine today is causing some significant concerns into Asia-Pacific,” he said.