Western governments, though largely unfazed by President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Moscow was reviving Cold War era nuclear bomber patrols, have nonetheless viewed the move as a new chill in East-West relations.
But the commander of the bomber group, Major General Anatoly Zhikharev – in an apparent effort to deescalate tensions – told ITAR-TASS Russian news agency that the bombers were only flying with training missiles aboard.
Zhikharev’s comments contradict the announcement made by his superior, Major General Pavel Androsov – who said last week, in the wake of a presidential announcement that the patrols would resume after a 15-year hiatus – that the flights were carrying nuclear weapons.
"Continuous alert missions were resumed on August 17th, on the decision of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and President of the Russian Federation (Vladimir Putin) after an interval, which had lasted since 1992," Zhikharev said.
"They are being flown in difficult conditions, including pre-reconnaissance, refuelling in the air, and in opposition to fighters of Nato and other countries," he added.
Putin has said that he resumed the flghts in answer to continued nuclear patrols of Russian interests by countries he would not specify, though military analysts suggest Putin’s comments were a barb aimed at the United States.