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Russia flexes muscles in America's backyard

September 11, 2008 19:50 IST

In response to dispatching of US warships to Georgia and plans to deploy missile defence shield in Central Europe, Russia flexed its muscle by dispatching two of its long-range strategic bombers to Venezuela traditionally considered America's backyard.

"Two Russian bombers have arrived in Venezuela for training exercises. The aircraft were accompanied by NATO fighters on their way to the country," Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement released Wednesday night.

After 13-hour long flight from Engels base in Volga region of Saratov the pair of Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers landed at Venezuela's Libertador airfield and will conduct a number of training flights over neutral waters in the next few days. Later they will return to their home base in Russia.

The Defence Ministry underscored that the bombers were not carrying their regular weapons, which usually consist of high precision nuclear and conventional missiles.

"The flight itinerary extended over neutral waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. The Russian bombers were accompanied by NATO fighters," it said.

Welcoming the arrival of the Russian bombers on his country's soil the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that he himself wants to fly one of them, just like former Russian President Vladimir Putin did two years ago.

On September 1 President Chavez said that Venezuela welcomed the Russian Navy and Air Force on its territory.

"If the Russian Navy arrives in the Caribbean or the Atlantic it may certainly visit Venezuela, we have no problems with that and would warmly welcome it," Chavez said.

"And if Russian long-range bombers should need to land in Venezuela we would not object to that either. We will also welcome them," he was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti, Russian news agency.

Russia, which has been fiercely opposing the US missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic, had cautioned that it will take 'effective but asymmetrical' counter-measures.

Just as the US warships were heading towards the Georgian coasts in the Black Sea in the wake of four-day Caucasus war last month, Russia announced it would send a naval task force of the Northern Fleet on a tour of duty in the Atlantic Ocean and participate in joint naval drills with the Venezuelan navy in November.

Military analyst Vladimir Yevseyev believes that the decision to hold an exercise flows directly from the worsening of relations between Russia and the West.

"This is a very strong statement in all respects," he told web portal Gazeta.ru.

"To begin with, the exercise is to be conducted with Venezuela, which, in Washington's view, pursues an openly anti-American policy. Second, the presence of Pyotr Veliky will tell the Americans that their territory is vulnerable, too.

Lastly, Russia shows that it is willing to establish relations w ith many countries in the region that are close to Venezuela, and Nicaragua's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia's independence was not accidental."

Vinay Shukla in Moscow
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