Cold war echo: Russian military maneuvers with Venezuela
Russia sent two long-range bombers to Venezuela Wednesday and will send warships and soldiers for joint exercises in November.
Caracas, Venezuela; and Mexico City
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But in a move out of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's historical playbook, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez announced this week that his nation will host four Russian warships and 1,000 troops in November for joint military exercises.
That was followed Wednesday by the arrival in Venezuela of two Russian long-range bombers.
Although Latin American leaders so far have shrugged off the moves as another act of bravado in Mr. Chávez's push against what he calls "Yankee hegemony," some diplomats and US officials see the potential for real trouble.
The US typically ignores the leftist leader's angry tirades, and is playing down the news.
Still, an extensive military relationship between Venezuela and Russia could heighten tensions and signal the start of a new regional cold war.
"This is a risky step that could provoke the US," says retired Navy Vice Admiral and former Vice Minister of Defense Rafael Huizi Clavier. "Any incident, any error, could bring problems." This week, Russia announced that it will send a naval squadron, including the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Peter the Great, as well as long-range patrol planes for the upcoming joint exercises with Venezuela.
On Wednesday, two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela for training. Russian officials say they will leave in four days.
Commenting on the deployment, Mr. Chávez dismissed comparisons to the cold war, but said he had hopes of flying one of the Russian planes.
Addressing Mr. Castro, the Cuban leader is a close friend and mentor, Chávez said: "I'm going to fly a Tu-160. Fidel, I'm going to fly low past you there."
The announcements, and the arrival of Russian bombers, come as Venezuela has stepped up military purchases from Russia, including fighter jets, helicopters, and Kalashnikov rifles.
And it's not just Russia that Venezuela has become close to.
"The objective is clear: to tell the world 'we are sovereign,' " says Hector Herrera, a retired lieutenant colonel of the National Guard and founder of the Bolivarian Civic Military Front, a pro-Chávez organization that works on security and defense issues. "Venezuela is a free and sovereign nation and can have friends and enemies."
US-Russian ties grow tense