Russian failure to notify U.S. of bomber exercises violated New START arms treaty

July 19, 2012

Recent incursions into U.S. air defense zones by Russian nuclear bombers earlier this month were part of exercises that violated provisions of the 2010 New START treaty, according to U.S. officials.

The treaty requires Russia and the United States to provide 14-day advance notification of major strategic exercises involving nuclear bombers covered by the treaty, and to provide notice within 48 hours after the exercises end.

State Department and Pentagon officials said the Russians failed to provide the proper notification for large-scale exercises held in late June in the arctic.

During the exercises, two Tu-95MS Bear H bombers armed with cruise missiles flew into the 200-mile air defense zone near Alaska, prompting U.S. F-15 and Canadian CF-18 jets to intercept the bombers.

The exercises began June 18th, the same day President Obama met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico at what was described as a politically tense meeting.

The exercises ended June 25 and included about 30 Russian aircraft, including Tu-95MS Bear H and Tu-160 Blackjack nuclear-capable bombers; a Russian military spokesman said they had practiced strikes on "enemy air defenses and strategic facilities."

The U.S. Northern Command and joint U.S.-Canada North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) were never notified of the exercises, the officials said.

After the late-June bomber incursion, two more Russian Tu-95s entered the air defense zone near California on July 4 in what defense officials said was an unprecedented air intrusion not seen since the days of the Soviet Union.

The bombers flew very close to the U.S. West Coast, the officials said.

Obama administration and U.S. military officials at the time sought to play down the incursions as non-threatening.

However, Army Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, raised the issue during a meeting at the Pentagon July 12 with Russian Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian general staff.

"During the visit last week, Generals Dempsey and Makarov briefly discussed recent Russian bomber flights near Alaska and California and pledged better communication in the future to increase transparency and reduce the chances of misunderstanding," Lapan told the Free Beacon.

Lapan did not address the question of whether the flights violated the New START treaty.

A State Department official, asked about the incursions and whether the Russians provided advance notification and notice after the exercises ended, had no immediate comment.

The State official said the United States and Russia "routinely send heavy bomber movement notifications as required by the New START Treaty."

"All appropriate heavy bomber movement notifications during the week of July 2nd were provided in accordance with the Treaty," the official said.

The official did not comment on whether the proper notification for the large-scale arctic bomber exercises was provided, as required under Paragraphs 5 and 6 of Section III of Part Four of New START Protocol.

Russian Embassy spokesman Yevgeniy Khorishko said all information on such events is sent to the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, and "the embassy has no information about such exchange of information."

According to other U.S. officials, the administration’s conciliatory "reset" policy toward Russia has meant Moscow’s questionable international behavior on a range of issues has not been challenged by the administration.

"New START notifications of exercises involving heavy bombers apparently don't reflect the times," said a U.S. official critical of the reset policy. "If the notifications don't include Russian disclosure of their intention to fly their nuclear bombers at us, and since we are as likely to fly our B-52s against them, then we continue to see the treaty do very little for us."

The official said the failure to press the Russians is "typical Obama apologist Russian policy."

A second official said the recent strategic nuclear activities by the Russians appear to be part of political messaging by Moscow, which has adopted a strong anti-U.S. posture under Putin.

Makarov, for example, threatened to conduct preemptive military strikes on U.S. missile defenses in Europe that Moscow regards as directed at its nuclear forces.

Russia also is stepping up activities in the arctic that observers say appear aimed at gaining access to energy resources.