Russia deploys two bombers to Venezuela

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, welcomed the unprecedented deployment at a time of increasing tensions between Moscow and the US.

The Tu-160, known as the Blackjack, is a long-distance strategic bomber capable of carrying out nuclear strikes. The two that have landed in Venezuela are not carrying nuclear weapons, the Russian Air Force said.
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CARACAS, Venezuela // Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela yesterday, as part of military manoeuvres, President Hugo Chavez said. The socialist leader welcomed the unprecedented deployment at a time of increasing tensions between Moscow and the US. Russian military analysts said it was the first time Russian strategic bombers have landed in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War. The provocative foray into Venezuela was certain to add to the strain in US-Russian relations created over Russia's war in Georgia. Neither of the two Russian strategic bombers that flew to Venezuela were carrying nuclear weapons, a Russian air force spokesman said on today. "There were no nuclear weapons on board these planes," said the spokesman, Vladimir Drik. He added that Nato planes tracking the two Tu-160 bombers as they flew to the South American country on Wednesday came "dangerously close". Nato fighters escorted the two Russian bombers on their 13-hour trip to Venezuela over the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, the Defense Ministry said. The Russian deployment appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to the US move to send warships to deliver aid to US-allied Georgia after its war last month with Russia. "This is a redux of Cold War games, and a dangerous thing to do," said Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. "It will only strengthen the hand of those in the United States who want to punish Russia for its action in Georgia." Earlier this week, Russia said it will send a naval squadron and long-range patrol planes to Venezuela in November for a joint military exercise in the Caribbean. Alexander Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessment, said the deployment would lead to further deterioration in US-Russia relations. "It's a demonstration of Russia's ability to do things nasty: You send warships to the Black Sea and we send bombers next to your door," Mr Konovalov said. "It will have a negative impact on global stability." Mr Chavez called the deployment part of a move toward a more "pluri-polar world", a reference to moving away from US dominance. "The Yankee hegemony is finished," Mr Chavez said in a televised speech. The Russian Defense Ministry said the bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission and would conduct training flights over neutral waters in the next few days before returning to Russia. Mr Chavez has strongly backed Russia's stance in Georgia. He denied that Russia's plan for a deployment later this year is related, saying the Russian navy's visit has been planned for more than a year. Venezuela remains a leading oil supplier to the United States, but as tensions with Washington have grown, Chavez's government has spent billions of dollars on Russian weapons including helicopters, Kalashnikov rifles and Sukhoi fighter jets. Chavez said Wednesday that Venezuela is looking to buy Russian submarines and is working with Russia to set up an air-defence system including long-range radar and "rockets ready to defend the country." He also announced the country will soon buy 24 Chinese-made K-8 flight training and light attack aircraft. * AP