updated 8/9/2007 10:52:06 AM ET 2007-08-09T14:52:06

Russian bombers have flown to the island of Guam — home to a major U.S. military base — for the first time since the Cold War in an exercise intended to show the Kremlin’s resurgent military power, an air force general said Thursday.

Two Tu-95 bombers reached Guam, a U.S. territory, this week, and their crews smiled at the pilots of the U.S. fighter jets that scrambled to intercept them, said Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov.

“Whenever we saw U.S. planes during our flights over the ocean, we greeted them,” Androsov said. “On Wednesday, we renewed the tradition when our young pilots flew by Guam in two planes. We exchanged smiles with our counterparts who flew up from a U.S. carrier and returned home.”

The flight to the Pacific island was part of a three-day exercise that saw Russian strategic bombers making 40 sorties and launching eight cruise missiles, said Androsov, who commands Russia’s long-range bomber force.

The incident coincided with a weeklong exercise by the U.S. military off Guam involving more than 22,000 troops, dozens of ships and hundreds of aircraft. U.S. officials have said that the war games, which began Tuesday, were not connected in any way to world events or targeted at any country.

During the Cold War, Soviet bombers routinely flew far over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans — the areas from where they would launch nuclear-tipped cruise missiles at the United States in case of war. The maneuvers came to a halt after the post-Soviet economic meltdown, but booming oil prices have allowed Russia to pour money into military budgets.

Chilly relations
The Kremlin also has taken an increasingly assertive posture on the international stage amid increasingly chilly relations with the United States and NATO.

In recent years, the military has sent strategic bombers to areas off Norway and Iceland, as well as the regions across the Bering Strait from Alaska. Last month, two Russian Tu-95 bombers briefly entered British airspace but turned back after British fighter jets intercepted them. Norwegian F-16s were also scrambled when two Tu-95s headed south along the Norwegian coast in international airspace.

Russia’s top naval officer, meanwhile, said earlier this month that the navy could revive a permanent presence in the Mediterranean, as in Soviet times.

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