Russia bombers to test-fire missiles in Atlantic

Updated: 2008-01-22 20:27

Moscow -- Russia on Tuesday sent two long-range bombers to the Bay of Biscay, off the French and Spanish Atlantic coasts, to test-fire missiles in its biggest navy exercise in the area since Soviet times.

Firing missiles off the coastline of two members of the NATO military alliance is the latest in a series of Kremlin moves flexing Moscow's military muscle on the world stage.

Russian bombers joined aircraft carriers, battleships and  submarine hunters from the Northern and Black Sea fleets for the Atlantic exercises, which come as the country enters an election campaign to choose a successor to President Vladimir Putin.

"The air force is taking a very active part in the exercises of the navy's strike force in the Atlantic," Russia's air force said in a statement.

"Today, two strategic Tu-160 bombers departed for exercises in the Bay of Biscay, which ... will carry out a number of missions and will conduct tactical missile launches," it said.

There was no immediate comment from NATO about the exercise.

Putin, widely popular as his second four-year term draws to a close, has sought to use such moves to revive domestic and international respect for Russia's armed forces which were shattered by the chaos of the 1990s.

A former KGB lieutenant-colonel, Putin has boosted military spending, renewed long-range bomber missions and approved a plan to upgrade Russia's nuclear attack forces, which he said was needed after NATO built up its forces close to Russia's borders.

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