Putin Just Sent Nuclear Bombers Over the English Channel, Seriously
Policy + Politics

Putin Just Sent Nuclear Bombers Over the English Channel, Seriously

It’s no secret Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to turn back the clock to a time when the Soviet Union strutted on the world’s stage, the only superpower offering a true counterweight to the U.S. On Thursday, though, Russia took steps – some alarming, some weird – that seemed aimed at reigniting the Cold War.

The U.K.’s Royal Air Force scrambled fighter jets on Thursday after a pair of nuclear-capable Russian bombers flew across a busy civilian air traffic corridor above the English Channel. The bombers had their transponders turned off, British officials said, making them invisible to many air traffic control systems. The incident disrupted multiple flights – and ended with the U.K. government demanding the Russian ambassador appear at the Foreign Office to explain the actions.

Related: SLIDESHOW: Vladimir Putin: International Man of Mystery

On the same day, a Russian lawmaker proposed legislation that would condemn the reunification of East and West Germany in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The proposal, supported by Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, a close Putin ally, would declare the reunification an illegal “annexation” of East Germany by West Germany.

The thinking in the Kremlin appears to be that the criticism of Russia for sending troops into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula last year, and then – with foreign troops still occupying the country – holding a referendum on the Crimea joining Russia, is unfair. The proposal is meant to be a sort of protest vote. The reunification of Germany, they say, was a fait accompli prior to an actual vote by the citizens of East Germany.

Not mentioned in coverage by Russian-owned media is that the East Germans had been fenced in at all border crossings for a generation – while Ukrainians in Crimea had the ability to travel outside the country without restrictions if they so chose.

It’s possible that Thursday’s events were related to the European Union’s vote to extend economic sanctions against Russia for six months. The sanctions were originally imposed because of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its support of violent separatists in eastern Ukraine. The EU voted to extend the sanction regime in a week when violence has further flared in Ukraine’s Donbas region – and when evidence of Russia’s military support of the rebels has mounted.

Related: Why Putin Is Cornered Like a Rat

Russian officials have consistently denied any military involvement in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which has now claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Talk of a new Cold War has been commonplace in recent months, but on Thursday Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union and someone who can legitimately be said to have helped end the Cold War, struck a distinctly pessimistic tone in comments to Interfax, the Russian news service.

The U.S. and Russia, he said, are already in a new Cold War. “Unfortunately I cannot say for sure that a cold war won't lead to a ‘hot’ one,” Mr. Gorbachev was quoted as saying. “I fear they could take the risk.”

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