The Tu-95 “Bear” bomber, a gigantic 1950s technology airplane with four sets of propeller engines, is not Russia’s newest bomber. It is, however, the most reliable and capable of making long distance flights to whichever countries Russia wants to intimidate. Think of the Bear as Russia’s ill-will ambassador to the world.
Russia sends Bear bombers to countries around the world whenever it needs to make a point. NATO has intercepted Bear bombers near Western Europe at least twice in the past three years, in August 2011 and April 2014. In June, two Bear bombers flew within 50 miles of the California coastline before turning back to Russia.
From bases in Russia’s Far East, Bears periodically circumnavigate Japan, flying simulated attack runs against Japanese radar stations. Such flights are mainly done when Japan becomes especially vocal about the return of the so-called “Northern Territories”, four Japanese islands seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The message to Japan, which was twice attacked with nuclear weapons from bombers, is pretty unambiguous.