MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian air force on Friday dismissed a claim by the Pentagon that it plans to fly its Tu-95 bombers close to U.S. airspace off Alaska and described the aircraft deployment as a routine training mission.
Kenneth Bacon, spokesman for Defense Secretary William Cohen, said Thursday that the U.S. military thought the Russians might fly some of the planes up through the Bering Straits and close to Alaska in a Cold-War style exercise.
Russian Air Force spokesman Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky confirmed that the four-engine, propeller-driven strategic bombers flew to several air bases in northern Siberia for regular training.
''It's not some saber-rattling in the Cold War style,'' Drobyshevsky told The Associated Press. ''The bombers aren't going to approach Alaska or pose any threat to the United States. They will stay in the Russian airspace.''
Drobyshevsky said the Tu-95s would carry no weapons during the flights. ''Pilots have to restore their skills,'' he said, adding that Russian bomber pilots flew an average of 10 hours a year compared to more than 200 hours a year in Western air forces.
Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Russians last sent bombers over the Bering Sea in March. His comments appeared designed to pre-empt a Russian claim to have penetrated U.S. air defenses off Alaska. The Russians twice this fall flew warplanes near the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Sea of Japan and afterward released photographs showing they had approached the carrier.
Bacon said the Navy tracked the Russian aircraft and dismissed the Russian suggestions that the U.S. carrier was caught off guard.
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