Moscow has rejected US criticism of the deployment to Venezuela of two Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to Monday’s arrival of a pair of Tu-160 aircraft in Venezuela by tweeting: “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed Pompeo’s comments as “undiplomatic” and “inappropriate”. He told reporters on Tuesday such criticism sounds odd from a country “half of whose military budget would be enough to feed the whole of Africa”.
The bombers’ deployment comes amid soaring Russia-US tensions.
Russian-US ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Ukraine, the war in Syria, and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Russia’s defence ministry said a pair of Tu-160 bombers landed on Monday at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas following a 10,000-km flight.
It didn’t say if the bombers were carrying any weapons and didn’t say how long they will stay in Venezuela.
The ministry said the bombers were shadowed by Norwegian F-18 fighter jets during part of their flight.
The Tu-160 is capable of carrying conventional or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles with a range of 5,500km.
Code-named Blackjack by NATO, the massive warplane is capable of flying at twice the speed of sound. Russia has upgraded its Tu-160 fleet with new weapons and electronics and it plans to produce a modernised version of the bomber.
The deployment follows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s visit to Moscow last week, in a bid to shore up political and economic assistance, as his country struggles to pay billions of dollars owed to Russia.
Russia is a major political ally of Venezuela, which has become increasingly isolated internationally under growing sanctions led by the United States and the European Union, which accuse Maduro of undermining democratic institutions to hold on to power while overseeing an economic and political crisis that is worse than the Great Depression.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at last week’s meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, that Russia would continue to send its military aircraft and warships to visit Venezuela as part of bilateral military cooperation.
Asked about the Russian bombers, Colonel Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said he had no specific information.
However, Manning cited the humanitarian assistance provided in Central and South America by a US Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, over the past eight weeks. Numerous Venezuelan migrants were among the people who received medical and dental treatment.
“Contrast this with Russia, whose approach to the manmade disaster in Venezuela is to send bomber aircraft instead of humanitarian assistance,” Manning said.