Robert Harneis –TDO- (France) - Russia wants to deploy strategic aircraft at a Venezuelan airbase in the Caribbean Sea, according to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper. Venezuela’s laws do not allow it to host foreign military bases, but it can temporarily host foreign military planes, the newspaper wrote, quoting unnamed military and diplomatic sources as saying that Russia wanted to deploy strategic aircraft to a military airfield on the island of La Orchila off the coast of Venezuela.
It said Caracas had offered to host Russian planes there in the past and that Moscow had not taken up the offer, but that it had had a change of heart in light of the U.S. plan to exit a Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia. NATO’s high profile large scale exercises on Russia’s border and the US supported Ukrainian provocation at the new Kerch Strait Bridge in Crimea are no doubt factors as well.
The report comes after the visit of nuclear capable long range high speed bombers to Caracas accompanied by two other Russian aircraft. The TU-160 supersonic bombers, known as “White Swans” by Russian pilots, landed at Maiquetia airport near capital Caracas after covering more than 10,000 km, the Russian and Venezuelan governments said.
Their deployment came days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose left-wing administration is the most significant U.S. opponent in Latin America, held talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
As OPEC member Venezuela’s economy suffers, Russia has become a key lender of last resort, investing in its oil and gold mining industry and providing support to its military.
Capable of carrying short-range nuclear missiles, the planes can fly over 12,000 km without re-fueling and have landed in Venezuela twice before in the last decade.
The visit triggered a highly colored reaction from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said on Twitter ‘Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela. 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.’
To which Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov replied that the remarks were ‘highly undiplomatic’ and ‘completely inappropriate.’ He went on to say ‘As for the idea that we are squandering money, we do not agree. It’s not really appropriate for a country half of whose defense budget could feed the whole of Africa to be making such statements,’
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called Pompeo’s comments ‘not only disrespectful, but cynical,’. He drew attention to the number of military bases the United States has abroad.
‘It’s strange the U.S. government questions our right to cooperate on defense and security with other countries, when @realDonaldTrump publicly threatens us with a military invasion,’ Arreaza tweeted, referring to Trump’s Twitter account.
In 2016 the Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Nikolai Pankov was quoted as saying Russia was considering plans to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba that had been important bases for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Russia closed its signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deepwater Cam Rahn naval base in Vietnam in the early 2000s.
At the time Dimitri Peskov remarked ‘The global situation is not static, it is in flux, and the last two years have made significant changes to international affairs and security. Therefore, it’s quite natural that all countries assess these changes in line with their national interests and take certain steps in the way they consider appropriate.’