Mérida, September 12, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– As part of a bilateral deal between Venezuela and Russia to promote a "pluri-polar world" by increasing political, military, and economic cooperation, two Russian Tu-160 bombers arrived in Venezuela Wednesday to carry out training exercises over neutral Atlantic and Caribbean waters.
"We are very interested in strengthening our knowledge, our technology, our defensive capacity, with the help of our strategic allies, and Russia is one of these," Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez commented Wednesday.
"What is coming is a pluri-polar word where Venezuela is a free country, and a free continent is being born, and we are free to have relations with whomever we want," Chávez continued.
Venezuela, which is closing off a $4 billion purchase of Russian Sukhoi fighter planes and helicopters, may also acquire "a powerful Russian anti-aircraft defense system," Chávez informed on Wednesday.
The bombers are scheduled to return to their bases in Russia on October 15th when the exercises are over, according to Russian Major General Vladimir Drik.
Drik announced that there were no nuclear weapons on board the bombers. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrei Nesterenko repeated past assurances that the bombers do not imply a Russian military base in Latin America.
"Russia has no military bases in Latin America. The bombers landed in Venezuela in line with an earlier bilateral agreement," Nesterenko said.
Following a meeting between Chávez and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in late July, mainstream international media outlets reported that Chávez agreed to allow Russia to open a military base in Venezuela, but this was shown to be false. Venezuela's 1999 constitution does not allow any foreign military bases on Venezuelan territory.
During the July meeting, which Chávez said promoted global "polycentrism," the two presidents signed both economic and military accords, including agreements for Russian oil companies to become minority partners in Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt, and a gas production agreement between the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and Russia's Gazprom.
U.S. Press Secretary Sean McCormack stated Thursday that the U.S. government will "watch very closely" the activities of Russia in Venezuela, and called the Tu-160s "Cold War era assets."
As speculations fly that the bombers are Russia's response to the United States government's support of Georgia during the recent armed conflict between the two countries, Nesterenko said the exercises were "not in any way connected to the current situation in the Caucasus," and were "not aimed at any third country."
Nesterenko added, "The Russian Air Force has always strictly complied with international rules of flights above neutral waters without breaching the air space of other nations."
The operations are normal acts of cooperation between strong allies, according o Venezuelan Strategic Operation Command General Jesús González.
Russia is also providing technical support and replacement parts to Venezuela, González said, because "Russia was one of the few nations that offered us scientific cooperation when Washington denied us."
The Russian and Venezuelan navies also plan to carry out unprecedented joint exercises in the Caribbean between the 10th and 14th of November, according to the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN).
Navy Intelligence Director and Admiral Salbatore Cammarata said the operations would involve four Russian boats and 1,000 military personnel, ABN reported.
The military exercises come as Venezuelan government officials denounce a new plan by the Venezuelan opposition and their U.S. government allies to assassinate President Chávez and overthrow the Venezuelan government in the lead-up to regional and local elections this November.
President Chávez said the presence of the Russian planes in Venezuela "is a message to the [United States] Empire. Venezuela is no longer poor and solitary, exploited and humiliated."
Anticipating the negative response from the Venezuelan opposition, Chávez said "yes, yes, so that it hurts the pitiyanquis," after announcing the joint exercises, using a term that represents displeasure with the links between opposition groups and the U.S. and their past efforts to topple the Chávez administration.
Chávez also asserted Wednesday that the real threat to the hemisphere is not the Russian presence, but the re-activation of the Fourth Naval Fleet of the U.S. Southern Command in Latin America, which was announced last May.