Russia boasts buzzing U.S. base in Cold War-style assertiveness
August 10, 2007
GENEVA —Russian long-range bombers buzzed a U.S. naval base at Guam, Russian military officials said yesterday, the first such sortie since the Cold War and just the latest example of Moscow's growing assertiveness in reclaiming some of the prerogatives of its Soviet superpower days.
Russian Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov boasted in a Moscow press conference that the pilots of the two TU-95 turboprop bombers flew close enough to the U.S. jets that scrambled to track them Wednesday that the Russian pilots were able to "exchange smiles" with their American counterparts.
The unannounced, 13-hour flight was just the latest in a series of incidents that have given rise to fears across Europe that Russia's post-communist opening to the world is increasingly giving way to a more inward-looking, nationalist fervor under President Vladimir Putin.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler confirmed the flight of the two Russian bombers, but said they did not come as close to U.S. assets as the Russians suggested.
"We were prepared to intercept the planes, but they never came close enough to a U.S. ship or to the island of Guam to warrant an air-to-air intercept," he said.
Russia under Mr. Putin rejects Western criticisms of its economy and political freedoms and shows a growing official appreciation in government, the press and education for the achievements of the communist era, according to Western analysts.
Recent Russian films reaching Western Europe portray Josef Stalin not as a brutal dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians, but as a heroic leader who defeated Nazi Germany.
"In Russia today, any call to restore former Cold War greatness and stature is applauded," according to Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, though Mr. Felgenhauer questions whether the Kremlin has the resources and will to match Mr. Putin's grandiose rhetoric.
Russian government officials have been conspicuously absent from events this year marking the 70th anniversary of Stalin's Great Purge of 1937, when millions of citizens were killed or shipped off to labor camps.
Mr. Putin, in remarks earlier this summer, did not defend the Stalin purges, but said Russians today should not wallow in shame or guilt because "in other countries even worse things happened" — including the U.S. atomic bomb strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky said at a memorial ceremony south of Moscow on Wednesday that the Putin government was "almost completely ignoring" the Great Purge anniversary, "one of the most convincing pieces of evidence that Russian authorities sympathize with Stalin's regime," according to the Associated Press.
Disclosures of Stalinist purges and massacres are being discouraged, analysts say, and school textbooks are being rewritten to include the "positive sides" of the communist era.
The back-to-the-Cold-War sentiment can be seen particularly in Russian military policy, with the Guam mission part of a pattern of events that call to mind the Soviet Cold War era.
Russian explorers who planted a flag on the North Pole seabed to strengthen Moscow's territorial claims received a heroes' welcome earlier this week in the Russian press, despite angry rejections of the Russian claim by the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway.
Last week, Russia's navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Masorin, sounded another echo of the Soviet era when he said that Russia "must restore a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea" — a presence Moscow has not had since the Cold War.
The Russian reassertiveness is being felt even in the arts.
According to Russian movie producer Nikita Dostal, plans for films depicting Soviet setbacks or events such as Stalin's massive ethnic resettlements or the 1937 purges are "simply set aside."
In some recent films, Stalin is not portrayed as the short man with a pock-marked face he was, but as a dignified, handsome leader who inspired victory.
The resurgence of nationalism reflects the popular feeling that the United States and the West exploited Russia's weakness after the Soviet collapse and the fact that the Kremlin's coffers are now bulging because of energy revenue, according to Ariel Cohen, a Russia specialist at the Heritage Foundation.
"Flush with cash, Russia today is constantly looking for avenues to boost its geopolitical muscle," he said. "That has translated into some very ambitious strategic programs."
• David R. Sands contributed to this article from Washington.