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Russia flexes military muscle, evoking cold war posturing

Russia and Georgia spar over a missile firing. The US responded in muted fashion after Russian bombers flew over Guam.

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Meanwhile, the Russians admit they've taken a more confrontational approach in another area in a move that harks back to the cold war games of chicken played between Soviet and US pilots, the British Broadcasting Corp. reports.

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Two Tu-95 turboprop [bombers] flew this week to Guam, home to a big US military base, Russian Maj Gen Pavel Androsov said.
They "exchanged smiles" with US pilots who scrambled to track them, he added.
"It has always been the tradition of our long-range aviation to fly far into the ocean, to meet [US] aircraft carriers and greet [US pilots] visually," he said at a news conference.
"Yesterday [Wednesday] we revived this tradition, and two of our young crews paid a visit to the area of the base of Guam," he said.

The US response to that incident has, so far, been muted, The Washington Post reports.

U.S. defense officials in Washington said Thursday that the Russian move in the Pacific was not seen as a provocation but that it did get attention. U.S. forces -- including 22,000 troops, 30 ships and 275 aircraft -- are working alongside Japanese forces in the waters near Guam this week as part of a massive war game dubbed Exercise Valiant Shield.

Nevertheless, Russia's increasing military assertiveness is leaving US policymakers in a quandary. The country, which was at one time building a nuclear plant in Iran but has since suspended construction, has been closer to US views on handling that issue lately.

But analysts say the country's help on that front also comes as it maneuvers for a freer hand in areas it considers to be in its sphere of influence, like Georgia or Kosovo, where Russia has been backing Serbia's opposition to independence, and limiting the expansion of NATO.

The Washington Times reports that a booming economy is convincing Russia to assert itself.

The resurgence of nationalism reflects the popular feeling that the United States and the West exploited Russia's weakness after the Soviet collapse and the fact that the Kremlin's coffers are now bulging because of energy revenue, according to Ariel Cohen, a Russia specialist at the Heritage Foundation.
"Flush with cash, Russia today is constantly looking for avenues to boost its geopolitical muscle," he said. "That has translated into some very ambitious strategic programs."

Anatole Kaletsky, a Russian-born senior columnist for The Times of London says Putin has felt backed into a corner by the moves of the US and its allies and that he's turning the tables by taking actions that may appear provocative to outsiders but are generally popular at home.

Mr Putin faces a difficult transition from his present position as a wildly popular czarist-style absolute ruler to some kind of power behind the throne – a kingmaker or political puppeteer possibly modelled on Deng Xiaoping, of China, or Lee Kuan Yew, of Singapore, but with no real parallel in Russian history. In managing this unprecedented transition, nothing is more useful to Mr Putin than his image as the first national leader since Stalin who could stand up for Russia's interests against an inherently hostile world. This is why all the EU's complaints about neo-imperialist bullying of Poland and Estonia, all the lectures from President Bush about democracy and all the admonitions about human rights from Mrs Merkel are water off a duck's back to President Putin.
Why is hostility to the West so popular in Russia? … US and European behavior has consistently treated Russia more as an enemy than an ally. Russia has been told it could never join Nato or the EU and Mr Putin's invitation to G8 summits is scant consolation for the denial of WTO membership and the continuation of US trade sanctions dating back to the Cold War. On human rights and extrajudicial assassinations, Russia's record may be deplorable, but its abuses pale in comparison with those of Western friends such as Saudi Arabia and China, not to mention President Bush's "boil them in oil" ally, Uzbekistan.