Sunday, March 15, 2015

• US Asks Vietnam To Stop Russian Bomber Refueling Flights From Cam Ranh Air Base by timothy


by timothy
Reuters reports that the United States has asked Vietnam to stop letting Russia use its former US base at Cam Ranh Bay to refuel nuclear-capable bombers engaged in shows of strength over the Asia-Pacific region. General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, says the Russian bombers have conducted "provocative" flights, including around the U.S. Pacific Ocean territory of Guam, home to a major American air base



Brooks said the planes that circled Guam were refueled by Russian tankers flying from the strategic bay, which was transformed by the Americans during the Vietnam War into a massive air and naval base. Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed that the airport at Cam Ranh was first used for staging Il-78 tankers for aerial refueling of Tu-95MS bombers in January 2014. Asked about the Russian flights in the region, the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington respected Hanoi's right to enter agreements with other countries but added that "we have urged Vietnamese officials to ensure that Russia is not able to use its access to Cam Ranh Bay to conduct activities that could raise tensions in the region."

Cam Ranh is considered the finest deepwater shelter in Southeast Asia. North Vietnamese forces captured Cam Ranh Bay and all of its remaining facilities in 1975. Vietnam's dependence on Russia as the main source of military platforms, equipment, and armaments, has now put Hanoi in a difficult spot. Russia has pressed for special access to Cam Ranh Bay ever since it began delivering enhanced Kilo-class submarines to Vietnam. "Hanoi is invariably cautious and risk adverse in its relations with the major powers," says Carl Thayer. "The current issue of Russian tankers staging out of Cam Ranh pits Russia and China on one side and the United States on the other. 

There is no easy solution for Vietnam."


(Reuters) - The United States has asked Vietnam to stop letting Russia use a former U.S. base to refuel nuclear-capable bombers engaged in shows of strength over the Asia-Pacific region, exposing strains in Washington's steadily warming relations with Hanoi.

The request, described to Reuters by a State Department official, comes as U.S. officials say Russian bombers have stepped up flights in a region already rife with tensions between China, U.S.-ally Japan and Southeast Asian nations.

General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, told Reuters the planes had conducted "provocative" flights, including around the U.S. Pacific Ocean territory of Guam, home to a major American air base.

It is the first time that U.S. officials have confirmed the role of Cam Ranh Bay, a natural deep-water harbor, in Russian bomber plane activity that has increased globally.

Brooks said the planes that circled Guam were refueled by Russian tankers flying from the strategic bay, which was transformed by the Americans during the Vietnam War into a massive air and naval base.

Vietnam's willingness to allow Russia to use Cam Ranh Bay reflects Hanoi's complex position in a geopolitical tug-of-war that frequently pits China and Russia on one side and the United States, Japan and much of Southeast Asia on the other.

Washington is keen to secure greater access itself to Cam Ranh Bay as part of its strategic "pivot" to Asia to counter China's growing strength in the region. U.S. ships have visited for repairs in recent years.

Vietnam, in turn, has sought closer U.S. ties as a hedge against what it sees as China's aggression, but remains close to Russia in both defense and energy cooperation.

Cam Ranh Bay is now host to three submarines bought by Vietnam's navy from Russia to counter Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, with two more expected by early next year.

Brooks said in an interview the flights indicated that Vietnam's Cold War-era ally Russia was acting as "a spoiler to our interests and the interests of others."

RAISING TENSIONS
Asked about the Russian flights in the region, the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington respected Hanoi's right to enter agreements with other countries.

But the official added: "We have urged Vietnamese officials to ensure that Russia is not able to use its access to Cam Ranh Bay to conduct activities that could raise tensions in the region."

The Vietnamese government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.S. request.

Brooks declined to say when the flights he referred to took place. He did not say how many had been conducted and how many aircraft were involved. But he confirmed they had occurred since Russia's annexation of Crimea last March, which sparked a broader conflict with Ukraine and a surge in tensions between Russia and the United States.

The head of U.S. air forces in the Pacific said last May that Russia's intervention in Ukraine had been accompanied by a significant increase in Russian air activity in the Asia-Pacific region in a show of strength and to gather intelligence.

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Jan. 4 that Russian Il-78 tanker aircraft had used Cam Ranh Bay in 2014, enabling the refueling of nuclear-capable TU-95 "Bear" strategic bombers, a statement also reported in Vietnam's state-controlled media.

In that time, Russia has conducted increasingly aggressive air and sea patrols close to the borders of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, including by Bear bombers over the English Channel.

Last year, NATO conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, about three times as many as in 2013.




Russian Tupolev Tu-95 turboprop-powered 
strategic bombers fly above the Kremlin in 
Moscow, on May 7, 2014, during a 
rehearsal of the 
Victory Day parade

RUSSIAN BOMBER FLIGHTS
Russian bomber patrol flights, a Cold War-era practice, were cut back after the fall of the Soviet Union but President Vladimir Putin revived them in 2007.

Russia said in November it planned to send long-range bombers on patrols over North American waters but the Pentagon played this down at the time as routine training in international airspace.

In its effort to boost ties with Vietnam, the United States has been pouring in aid and assistance in health, education, landmines clearance, scholarships and nuclear energy.

Defense cooperation had been limited by an embargo on lethal arms. But Washington started to ease this in October, enabling humanitarian exercises between both militaries late last year and more are taking place this month.

Last year saw a flurry of high-level U.S. visits to Vietnam that coincided with a maritime territorial row between Hanoi and Beijing. On Friday, the U.S ambassador in Vietnam announced that the Vietnamese Communist Party chief would later this year become the first party leader to visit Washington.

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said on Friday it was understandable Hanoi would look to "historic partners" when it came to security, but the United States had "much to offer... to enhance Vietnam's security in the short, medium and long term."

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Martin Petty and Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi and Jason Szep in Washington; Editing by David Storey and Stuart Grudgings)



Published March 13, 2015

A top U.S. military official said Russian heavy bombers flew more "out-of-area patrols" last year than in any year "since the Cold War," as he warned Congress about Moscow's increasing "assertiveness" and military advances.

Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, delivered the warning in written testimony Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he said over time, Moscow's aggression could pose "increased risk" to the ability to defend North America against Russian threats.

After a series of reports of Russian flights spotted everywhere from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico to off the coast of England, Gortney confirmed that this activity represents a "notable increase in Russian military assertiveness on the world stage, including in the approaches to the homelands."

Aside from the increase in heavy bombers flights, he said Russia is progressing toward deploying "long-range conventionally-armed cruise missiles with ever increasing stand-off launch distances" on those heavy bombers and other systems.

Gortney said this builds the Kremlin's "toolkit" of "deterrent options short of the nuclear threshold."

The warning comes as Russia defies international sanctions and warnings with its intervention in eastern Ukraine, and the Obama administration weighs the possibility of lethal aid for Ukrainian forces.

Asked at Thursday's hearing about Russia's progress in developing more dangerous weapons, Gortney said he's seen a "pretty significant increase" in terms of Russia's long-range aviation.

He said his concerns revolve around where they're flying -- "even through the ... English Channel."

"We have to look at this in a more expansive manner. But if we have the investments that we've asked for, we'll be able to outpace that technology," Gortney said, referencing concerns about tightened Defense funding.

On Friday, Reuters reported that Russia also has rejected U.S. concerns about it using an ex-U.S. base in Vietnam to refuel its bomber flights.

Previously, the U.S. asked Vietnam to stop letting Russia use the base for refueling, according to Reuters. A Russian government statement called the American concerns "puzzling."

But a U.S. military official had told Reuters the Russian planes have conducted "provocative" flights near Pacific U.S. territory including Guam.




The United States has asked Vietnam to stop allowing Russian refueling planes to use a former U.S. base to serve Russian strategic bombers flying over the Pacific.

Reuters news agency reported on March 11 that the U.S. State Department said Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons were being refueled by tanker planes using the Cam Ranh Bay airfield.

U.S. General Vincent Brooks described some of those flights as "provocative," explaining the Russian bombers were flying near the U.S. air base at Guam.

Brooks said Russian bombers that recently circled Guam were refueled by Russian tankers flying from Cam Ranh Bay.

Brooks did not say when these incidents occurred.

The U.S. Air Force said in May that Russia's intervention in Ukraine was accompanied by a significant increase in Russian air activity in the Asia-Pacific region.


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Mar. 14 2015 10:18 



Russia on Friday rejected U.S. concerns about its use of a former American base in Vietnam for the refueling of Russian bomber flights around U.S. territory in the Pacific, dismissing recent U.S. statements as "puzzling" and "strange." 

It was reported on Wednesday that the United States had asked Vietnam to stop letting Russia use Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay for tanker aircraft that have refueled nuclear-capable bombers engaged in shows of strength over the Asia-Pacific region.

"It is strange to hear such statements from representatives of the state whose armed forces are permanently stationed in a number of Asia-Pacific countries and which continues to increase its level of military activity in the region," Russia's Defense Ministry said.

It said U.S. statements that the refueling of Russian bombers from Vietnam could lead to increased regional tensions was "puzzling."

The ministry said Russian Air Force activities and cooperation with Vietnam were "carried out in strict accordance with international norms and bilateral agreements are not directed against anyone whatsoever and shall not be a threat to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, said last week the planes had conducted "provocative" flights, including around the U.S. Pacific Ocean territory of Guam, home to major American bases.

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Jan. 4 that Russian Il-78 tanker aircraft had used Cam Ranh Bay in 2014, enabling the refueling of nuclear-capable TU-95 "Bear" strategic bombers, a statement also reported in Vietnam's state-controlled media.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States did not want Russia to use Cam Ranh Bay.

"We have urged Vietnamese officials to ensure that Russia is not able to use its access to Cam Ranh Bay to conduct activities that could raise tensions in the region," she told a regular news briefing.

The Voice of America radio station quoted a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi as saying Thursday that the U.S. request was conveyed to Vietnamese officials last week and that she was unaware of a Vietnamese government response.

The Vietnamese government has not responded to requests for comment.
"We do not intend to listen"

On Friday, Russia's TASS news agency quoted Russia's ambassador to Vietnam, Konstantin Vnukov, as saying that Vietnam and Russia were independent sovereign states that "do not need any instructions or recommendations by anyone, and we do not intend to listen to requirements."

Russia and Vietnam are longtime allies, and Moscow was the main backer of Hanoi against the United States in the Vietnam War that ended in 1975.

But the current controversy comes at a time of steadily warming ties between Washington and Hanoi, especially in security, given shared concerns about China's growing power and assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Washington is eager to secure greater access itself to Cam Ranh Bay as part of its strategic "pivot" to Asia to counter China's growing strength. U.S. ships have visited for repairs in recent years.

U.S. officials have been careful not to criticize Vietnam itself over the Russian flights, stressing that Washington respected Hanoi's right to enter agreements with other countries.

On Thursday, a senior official at the U.S. State Department told Reuters that Washington did not see "any indication at all that the Vietnamese relationship with Russia is any way meant to reduce the relationship, or weaken, or impact the relationship with the United States."

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