Russian forces continue to move around Georgia with impunity, and senior U.S. defense officials say they are troubled by intelligence showing the Russians have deployed SS-21 ballistic missiles into South Ossetia with a range to strike Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Secretary of State Rice stated Russia has raised questions about its place in the international community through the invasion and other actions, including the resumption last year for the first time since the 1991 collapse of the former Soviet Union of air patrols near the Alaskan coast by Tu-95 strategic bombers, code-named Bears by NATO.
“We’ve had Russian strategic aviation challenging in ways they haven’t, even along our borders with the United States, which I might note is a very dangerous game and perhaps one that I suggest the Russians want to reconsider. This is not one that is cost-free,” Rice said.
She did not elaborate on a U.S. reaction to the flights, which have been widely seen as an attempt by Russia, flush with windfall oil profits, to reassert itself as a global power despite serious problems with its military.
Since the flights resumed in August 2007, U.S. and Canadian fighters have intercepted the Russian bombers and escorted them away from the U.S. coast.
U.S. officials have previously attached little real significance to the flights by the turboprop-powered Cold War relics, and defense officials said Monday that recent flights did not provoke concerns within the Pentagon.
Russian bombers also have made forays into neutral airspace near Norway and over U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific.
Rice said, however, that the Alaska patrols and the invasion of Georgia contradicted Russia’s stated desire for political and economic integration into the international community.