An Australian air force base was put on alert while Russian strategic bombers conducted exercises in neutral waters off Indonesia, a move experts said showed Moscow was looking to extend its influence in the Pacific.
The base in Darwin was briefly put on a state of “increased readiness” in early December during the Russian exercises, which, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence, involved two nuclear-capable Tu-95MS bombers and more than 100 personnel.
One of Australia’s foremost national security experts, Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the exercises showed Russia was again extending its influence to the peripheries of the world. “It is a reminder Russia is here and wants to be a player in Pacific security and will use military force to demonstrate that,” he told the ABC.
The aircraft took off from Indonesia’s Biak airfield, on an island north of Papua, and stayed in the air for more than eight hours. The aircraft flew only above neutral waters, according to the Russian military.
“Flights over neutral waters in Arctic, northern Arctic, Black and Caspian seas, and Pacific Fleet are conducted regularly by long-range aircraft,” its defence ministry said in a statement. “All the missions of the Russian Aerospace Forces are carried out in strict accordance with the international air law.”
The two bombers had earlier arrived at the Biak airfield from the Amur region in Russia’s south-east. The Russian military said the bombers were refuelled by Il-78 aircraft over the Pacific ocean on their way to Indonesia.
The bombers, commonly referred to as “bears”, have a range of almost 15,000km without refuelling.
The Australian Department of Defence confirmed to Guardian Australia “there was a brief period of increased readiness” in…