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Russian Strategic Bombers Land In Venezuela

  • RFE/RL

Chavez: "It hurts the Yankees."

Chavez: "It hurts the Yankees."

Down with the Yankees!

At least, that's how President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the United States, sees Venezuela's latest cooperation with Russia.

"Russian strategic bombers, Tu-160s, have landed in Venezuela. Yes, yes. So that way it hurts Yankees," Chavez said.

Chavez, who calls Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro a mentor, then joked that he would fly one of the Russian bombers over Cuba. Boasting that he had practiced on a flight simulator, Chavez said, ""Fidel, I'll pass over low for you."

But the bombers' arrival is no joke.

The exercises, the first major maneuvers in the U.S. front yard since the Cold War, are a show of strength by Russia amid rising tensions with Washington over Georgia and U.S. plans for a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.

The planes arrived on September 10 days after Russia and Venezuela announced they would conduct joint naval exercises in the Caribbean later this year. Those drills will involve a nuclear-powered Russian battleship.

Speaking earlier this week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko insisted the exercises had nothing to do with any other countries, a reference to the United States.

"This exercise -- if it does take place according to the approved plan -- will not be directed against the interests of any third country in any way," Nesterenko said.

But Russia has expressed anger at the United States for recently sending naval ships to Georgia to deliver aid, and also for showing strong support for President Mikheil Saakashvili after the war in the former Soviet republic.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the bombers will conduct training flights over international waters before returning to Russia in a few days.

Neighboring countries are nervously watching the maneuvers.

The former defense minister of neighboring Colombia, Marta Lucia Ramirez, urged the Senate in Bogota on September 10 to call for talks at the Organization for American States on the Russian-Venezuelan military exercises. Ramirez said the drills are bringing "tensions between global powers to South America."

In recent years, Russia has become the largest weapons supplier to Venezuela. In 2006, Russia agreed to supply Caracas with 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 24 Su-30 fighter jets, and 53 helicopters.

Belarus is also a significant supplier of arms to Venezuela, which before Chavez's rise to power in 1999 was an important U.S. ally during the Cold War.

with agency reports