Russian President Vladimir Putin, fresh off a public relations win at an Asian summit, gave a double poke to the Obama administration, authorizing bomber flights in the Gulf of Mexico and launching a glitzy global radio and web broadcast network to spread the word of Moscow.
A senior U.S. military official said Russia has not previously flown actual bomber patrols over the Gulf of Mexico, including during the Cold War.
The multimedia launch of the "Sputnik" service harkens back to the darkest days of U.S.-Soviet relations, when Joseph Stalin, and then Nikita Khrushchev ordered the jamming of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other Western shortwave broadcasts aimed at breaching the "Iron Curtain," while the Kremlin put out the party line on the old All-Union Radio network.
The new "Sputnik" network reportedly will involve radio broadcasts and websites staffed by hundreds of workers from offices in 25 international cities. An English-version website already has been launched, and includes a heavy dose of the world-according-to-Moscow.
A lead headline Thursday morning blared, "Russian Troops Never Crossed Ukrainian Border: Foreign Ministry." That's in response to NATO allegations that Russia was sending fresh troops and tanks into eastern Ukraine. Another headline warned how immigrants to the United States "lack protection" and "face violence." Yet another declared: "Russia, Unlike the US, Recognizes Iran as Growing Power: Middle East Expert."
The media push comes on top of Russia's growing RT television and web "news" network, which already has a global presence. The Wall Street Journal reported that the new initiative will include offices in Beijing and Washington. The Journal reports that Russia is boosting spending on RT to $340 million next year, and is spending $140 million on Sputnik.
By comparison, the Voice of America budget is roughly $200 million. It has increased gradually over the years, up from roughly $180 million when President Obama took office.
The developments underscore growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, even though Obama met briefly with Putin during the Asian summit this week in Beijing. According to the White House, hot topics such as Iran, Ukraine and Syria were touched on.
On Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg this week decried a "significant military buildup" of Russian artillery, tanks and troops in Eastern Ukraine. Moscow denied it.
Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also said Russian long-range bombers will conduct flights along Russian borders and over the Arctic Ocean - as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Shoigu would not say how frequent the patrol missions would be or offer any other specifics, but he noted that the increasing pace and duration of flights would require stronger maintenance efforts and that relevant directives have been issued to industries. It was not immediately known whether the flights would mean a greater Russian military presence in Cuba, where the U.S. has a massive installation at Guantanamo Bay.
Shoigu said the Russian air force's long-range planes also will conduct "reconnaissance missions to monitor foreign powers' military activities and maritime communications."
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren suggested there is a precedent.
"The Russians have patrolled in the Gulf [of Mexico] in the past and we've seen the Russian Navy operate in the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "These are international waters. It's important that the Russians conduct their operations safely and in accordance with international standards."
Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers were making regular patrols across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans during Cold War times, reaching areas from which nuclear-tipped cruise missiles could be launched at the United States. But that stopped in the post-Soviet economic meltdown.
The bomber patrol flights have resumed under Putin's tenure, and they have become even more frequent in recent weeks, with NATO reporting a spike in Russian military flights over the Black, Baltic and North seas as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier this year, Shoigu said that Russia plans to expand its worldwide military presence by seeking permission for navy ships to use ports in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for replenishing supplies and doing maintenance. He said the military was conducting talks with Algeria, Cyprus, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, Seychelles, Vietnam and Singapore.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.