Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights on August 17, saying that although the country had halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, other nations had continued the practice, compromising Russian national security.
"Since August 17, Russian strategic bombers have conducted over 70 patrol flights and more than 217 practice launches of unarmed missiles," Major-General Pavel Androsov, commander of the Russian Air Force's strategic aviation, said at a Defense Ministry news conference.
The general said bomber crews had practiced early detection and identification of potential targets and counter-intercept measures.
"Every patrol flight included elements of a tactical aerial engagement," Androsov said.
He also said at least 120 NATO interceptor aircraft had escorted Russian bombers during almost all their patrols, which had a total duration of over 40 hours.
"Military aircraft from the U.S., Canada, the U.K, Norway, and even France escorted us [Russia's strategic bombers] in the air," the general said, adding that NATO pilots had never shown hostility towards Russian planes.
Although it was common practice during the Cold War for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to keep nuclear strategic bombers permanently airborne, the Kremlin cut long-range patrols in 1992. The decision came as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ensuing economic and political chaos.
However, the newly-resurgent Russia, awash with oil dollars, has invested heavily in military technology, and the resumption of long-range patrols is widely seen among political commentators as another sign of its drive to assert itself both militarily and politically.
According to various sources, the Russian Air Force currently deploys 141 Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers, 40 Tu-95MS Bear bombers, and 14 Tu-160 Blackjack planes.