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Russian bombers arrive in Venezuela
Chavez says aircraft to strengthen military ties and counter US regional influence.
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2008 07:38 GMT
Chavez, right, supported Russia in its recent conflict with Georgia [Reuters]

Russia has flown two long-range bombers to Venezuela for military exercises, a move likely to cause concern in Washington.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, said on Wednesday that the Tu-160 strategic bombers had arrived to strengthen military ties and to counter US regional influence.

"They go around saying Chavez has brought the Cold War to Venezuela," he said.

"What's coming is a multipolar world in which Venezuela is a free country, that's what's coming," Chavez said in a televised speech.

The planes arrived days after the two nations announced plans to hold joint naval exercises in the Caribbean later this year involving a nuclear-powered Russian battleship.

Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez in Caracas said the move also sent a message to Venezuela's opposition, who have been critical of Chavez in recent days, over the power of the president.

Poor relations

The Russian defence 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, according to Russian media reports.

Russia remains angry at the US for its support for Georgia during the recent conflict over the region of South Ossetia, when US military vessels delivered aid to Georgia.

Alexander Konovalov, head of the Institute for Strategic Assessment in Moscow, said the deployment would lead to a further deterioration in relations between the US and Russia.

"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," Konovalov said.

"It will have a negative impact on global stability."

Planned operation

Chavez has strongly backed Russia's stance on the Georgian conflict and recently visited Moscow to seal a series of defence and economic agreements.

He denied that Russia's plans for naval exercises to be held later this year are related, saying the Russian navy's visit had been planned for more than a year.

Chavez, a former paratrooper, also said he would fly one of the aircraft himself.

"What's more, I'm going to take the controls of one of these monsters," he said.

The planes, huge supersonic combat aircraft that can fly long missions with a heavy payload, are capable of carrying nuclear or conventional bombs.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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