Washington briefing: Russia sends aircraft, naval vessels to the Americas

by Emil Sanamyan and Lusine Sarkisyan

Published: Tuesday September 23, 2008

Tu-160 in flight; Russia sent two such strategic bombers to Venezuela in mid-September 2008..

Tu-160 in flight; Russia sent two such strategic bombers to Venezuela in mid-September 2008. .

Washington - In a dramatic shift of military posture reminiscent of theheight of the Cold War, last week two Russian strategic bombers flew for 13hours over the Arctic and the Atlantic to land in Venezuela. A Russian navalgroup led by nuclear-powered cruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter theGreat) is set to arrive in the Caribbean later this fall for military exerciseswith Venezuela. And on September 15, a large Russian delegation arrived in Cubato determine its humanitarian needs following the recent hurricanes.

Russia's steps come after its leaders expressed irritationwith the arrival of three U.S. naval vessels in the Black Sea, ostensibly todeliver humanitarian aid to Georgia following its recent war with Russia overSouth Ossetia, and as the United States is considering resumption of militaryassistance to Georgia.

In a September 12 briefing, Assistant Secretary for PublicAffairs Sean McCormack mocked Russia's ability to projectpower into the Americas, saying that the U.S. "would be happy to make sure the[Russian planes and vessels] get back [to Russia] in case they break down alongthe way."

There is no "questionabout who the predominant military power is in [the Western] hemisphere," theState Department spokesperson asserted, adding that the United States waswatching Russian moves closely.

In a possibly related development, last week Venezuela andits South American ally Bolivia expelled U.S. ambassadors alleging U.S. backingfor an anti-government insurgency in Bolivia.

Mr. McCormack also confirmed that on September 11, Secretaryof State Condoleezza Rice called her counterpart SergeiLavrov for the first high-level U.S.-Russia conversation sinceAugust 15, a long break reflecting a chill in relations. The conversationreportedly included several topics in addition to Georgia - Iran, North Korea,and a U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

On September 8, the Bush administration withdrew a similaragreement it signed with Russia from congressional consideration, citing "thecurrent environment" in bilateral relations.

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