Russia will expand its long-distance air patrols farther out from its borders, reaching into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean basin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday.
The plans are likely to raise tensions further with the U.S., which has complained in recent months about a sharp increase in flights by Russian bomber and reconnaissance groups beyond the country’s borders.
“In the current situation, we are obliged to ensure our military presence in the western part of the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific Ocean and in the Caribbean Basin and the Gulf of Mexico and also conduct aerial reconnaissance with long-range aircraft of foreign military forces and shipping,” Gen. Shoigu told a top-level Defense Ministry meeting, according to a ministry statement.
Gen. Shoigu noted the extra flying would put a greater burden on Russia’s air force, much of which dates to the Soviet era, and that he had ordered special additional maintenance efforts to support it.
Asked about Russian exercises in the Gulf of Mexico, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said that Russia has conducted military exercises there before and that the operation was occurring over international waters. Still he stressed that it is important that Moscow “conduct their operations safely and in accordance with international standards.”
“Militaries train. The Russians train. We train. I am not going to get into comparisons of Russian training and American training,” Col. Warren said.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said last month that Russia has dramatically increased its air patrols around Europe to levels not seen since the Cold War. NATO also has deployed fighter planes in its member states near Russia in recent months, stepping up missions to demonstrate the alliance’s commitment to members on the front line with Russia, following the Ukraine crisis.
“In and of themselves the kinds of flights they’ve been doing are the kinds of flights you’d see,” a senior U.S. administration official said last month. “So they are not particularly dangerous or provocative in and of themselves. What’s more striking is the volume, how often they are happening, and how consistently they are happening. And that is concerning.”