Russian bombers arrive in Venezuela for joint maneuvers

Officials in Moscow deny any link between the conflict in Georgia and the Caribbean exercises.

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Russian long-range bombers arrived in Venezuela today for exercises in the Caribbean. The deployment marks the first time that Russian bombers have been sent to the Western hemisphere since the end of the cold war and escalates the already tense relationship between Washington and Moscow.

This comes on the heels of Venezuela's announcement Sunday that that four Russian naval vessels will participate in joint exercises in the Caribbean later this year, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Agence France-Presse reports that the larger exercises scheduled for November will involve Russian planes, nuclear submarines, and warships. But the bombers that arrived Thursday are not be armed with nuclear weapons.

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a longtime antagonist of the United States whose country is also a key oil provider, has supported the Russian stance in Georgia, reports the Associated Press. In a televised speech, he called the US an "empire" and pledged that "every day, relations between Venezuela and Russia will continue to deepen."

CNN reports that Russia has denied any link between the conflict in Georgia and the Caribbean joint military exercises. Speaking to Agence France-Press, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko repeated that stance.

But some see it as part of an escalating military tit for tat playing out in the Black Sea and the Caribbean, reports the Associated Press.

The Caribbean exercise comes hot on the heels of a regular NATO joint naval exercise in the Black Sea. Ships from the United States, Spain, Germany, and Poland left the region Wednesday after an 18-day deployment, reports the Associated Press.

The New York Times reported that such NATO exercises have long caused unease in Russia and that "after the war in Georgia, the Kremlin has expressed increasing frustration over the presence of NATO and American ships in the Black Sea."

Russia has also criticized the US for using military ships to deliver aid and humanitarian relief to Georgia, reports Al Jazeera International.

Russia will send its largest and most powerful vessels to the Caribbean for the exercises, including the nuclear battleship "Peter the Great" and the destroyed "Admiral Chabanenko," reports Reuters. Speaking to reporters in Moscow ahead of the maneuvers, Russian Adm. Eduard Baltin left no doubt as to why his country was engaging in such attention-grabbing exercises.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story mischaracterized the Russian equipment involved in the exercises.]

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