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Russian bombers in Venezuela on exercise

world Updated: Sep 12, 2008 00:16 IST
Fred Weir

Challenging the United States in its own backyard, two Russian strategic bombers have arrived in Venezuela to carry out ‘exercises’ over the Caribbean Sea.

The visit by the giant supersonic, swing-wing Tu-160 bombers, is the leading edge of a wave of military cooperation between Russia and its biggest Latin American client. The alliance soon will see joint naval manouvers and the temporary basing of Russian anti-submarine aircraft in Venezuela.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said the planes, which have seldom left Russian airspace since the Cold War ended nearly two decades ago, are part of an increased level of global vigilance by Russia’s armed forces.

“The flight itinerary extended over neutral waters in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans,” before reaching Venezuela, the Ministry said in a statement. “The Russian bombers were accompanied by NATO fighters.”

In November a 4-ship Russian naval task force, including the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great, will visit Venezuela to hold war games off the coast of South America.

Venezuela’s left-wing populist president, Hugo Chavez, has said the Russian military will be welcome guests in his country at any time.

For Russia, which has been stung by NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet sphere and US plans to deploy strategic anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, the military visits to Venezuela are an inexpensive way to strike back.