Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Russian strategic bombers flying over the Sea of Japan were intercepted by Japanese fighter jets on two occasions today before returning to base.
The two Tu-22M3 strategic bombers left an air base in Russia's Far East as part of a training exercise, Stability 2008, Russian Air Force spokesman Vladimir Drik said by telephone in Moscow. As they flew over the Sea of Japan they were ``accompanied'' for about 30 minutes by two Japanese F-15 fighter jets, he said.
Later, Japanese F-15 jets from a different air base flew alongside the two bombers for about four minutes before the bombers returned to Russian territory, Drik said. Agence France- Presse reported, citing a Japanese Defense Ministry official, that Japan scrambled six jets after the Russian planes came close to Japanese airspace.
The air-force exercises are Russia's largest since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, while a naval convoy on its way to Venezuela is staging a show of strength in the Mediterranean.
``The message of this is very clear: Russia's military can project its power worldwide,'' Jan Techau, a security affairs and European analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said in an interview. ``It's part of a systematic plan to win back Russian military prestige.''
Aircraft including supersonic Tu-160 nuclear bombers and strategic Tu-95 bombers are taking part in the Oct. 6-12 maneuvers in the Russian Far East bordering China and the U.S. state of Alaska and in the Volga region, the Defense Ministry said on Oct. 2.
Japan's a `Target'
``Japan is a target because it's a close ally of the U.S. and has built up its armed forces in recent years,'' Techau said.
Russia has resumed the practice of sending strategic bombers to patrol airspace near its neighbors as it asserts its power after a decade of oil-fueled growth. Since the conflict with U.S. ally Georgia in August, Russia has dispatched long- range bombers to Venezuela and warships are heading to the Western Hemisphere for the first time since the Cold War.
A Japanese Ministry of Defense report published on Sept. 5 said Russia had stepped up military training and surveillance activities in the Asia-Pacific region over the last year and that this development required close attention.
``After a decline in training exercises, Russia's military has been picking up the pace of its activities again,'' the 2008 Defense White Paper said. ``In the country's Far East, its strategic nuclear forces remain in a state of alert. These are trends that require close monitoring.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Sebastian Alison in Moscow at Salison1@bloomberg.net