Two Russian aircraft capable of carrying nuclear bombs landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of "training flights", President Hugo Chavez said. The bombers are within reach of the US amid mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers were in Venezuela on Wednesday for "training flights," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said, adding he would be piloting one of the aircraft.
"I hope that stings, 'pitiyanquis'," he said, using a derogatory term for Venezuelan opponents who have perceived US sympathies.
"What's more, I'm going to take the controls of one of these monsters," boasted the president, a former paratrooper and left-wing politician who has avowed antagonism towards the United States.
"It's been a while since these planes have been around these parts, and Russia decided a couple of years ago to revive its strategic aviation program," Chavez said during the inauguration of a medical center.
The moves came amid soaring tensions between Russia and the United States, including over the presence of US naval vessels sent close to Russian shores to deliver aid to Georgia.
Chavez also said plans for joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises in the region in November were currently being worked out, and said his closeness to the Kremlin would result in a cooperation that would "strengthen the country."
His announcement confirmed an Interfax report in Russia citing the Russian defense ministry saying the bombers would be in Venezuela for training flights over "neutral waters."
Russia said Monday it was dispatching a nuclear cruiser and other warships and planes to the Caribbean for the joint exercises with Venezuela -- the first such maneuvers in the US vicinity since the Cold War.
A spokesman for the Russian navy said Monday that the November maneuvers would take place under an agreement sealed when the leaders of the two countries met in Moscow in July.
Among the Russian ships to take part in the exercises would be the heavy nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great, a vessel with massive firepower whose cruise missiles can deliver nuclear or conventional warheads.
Foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Monday that the exercises were "not in any way connected to the current situation in the Caucasus," and were "not aimed at any third country."
Analysts said the Russian navy presence in Venezuela was more symbolic than military, though it did nothing assuage fears that Cold War-type tensions were building.
Thomas Gomart of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations noted that, up to now, Russia had contented itself with selling arms, notably fighter-bombers, to Caracas.
But the announcement of the Caribbean maneuvres seemed to be both an overt challenge to US power and a gesture of support to Chavez's radical policies, he said.
The Tupolev Tu-160 bombers were tracked by NATO jets on their flight to Venezuela, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing the defense ministry.
The planes -- huge supersonic combat aircraft similar to the US B1 bombers, capable of flying long missions with a heavy payload -- are capable of carrying nuclear or conventional bombs and/or cruise and guided missiles.
According to a specialist military website, Globalsecurity.org, there are 14 of the bombers in the Russian air force, after a 2003 crash destroyed one of them.
Sources in the Venezuelan defense ministry told AFP the Russian bombers were currently at El Libertador air base in the northern town of Palo Negro, in Aragua state.
Date created : 2008-09-11