Venezuela plans Russia navy visit (Updated)
rahul | September 7, 2008 at 07:47 amby
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BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- The Venezuelan government announced today that four Russian naval vessels will participate in joint exercises in the Caribbean this year, a move that could heighten already strained relations between Washington and Moscow....The announcement came shortly after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's deployment of several warships to the Black Sea in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Georgia last month would not go unanswered. It was not immediately clear whether there was a connection between the two events. The Russian agreement to send ships also could be seen as part of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's campaign to build up his military, an effort that includes arms deals, a proposed hemispheric South American Defense Council and a recent decree that gives his armed forces a greater role in carrying out his social agenda. Chavez, a strident critic of the United States, has said the actions are to ward off what he has described as U.S. imperialist designs on Venezuela and other Latin American countries. He has long suspected that the U.S. supported a failed 2002 coup against him. Chavez particularly is unhappy with the re-formation of the U.S. Navy's 4th Fleet, based in Mayport, Fla., which has just begun patrolling the Caribbean after having been disbanded in 1953....
The announcement of the November exercises did not come as a total surprise. Chavez said during a visit to Russia in July that its ships and airplanes were welcome in Venezuela. In today's statement, the Chavez government said an adjutant to Russian Adm. Popov Fedorovich had been in Venezuela to plan the exercise. Adm. Cammarata also indicated that Russian vessels may appear in the region before the exercises. Flush with oil revenues, Venezuela has spent $4 billion since 2004 on military hardware, purchased mainly from Russia, according to the Security and Democracy Foundation of Caracas. Those deals included the purchase of 53 Russian helicopters and 24 Sukhoi fighter jets. Venezuela is also purchasing rights and technology for a factory near Caracas to build Kalashnikov assault rifles. During his visit to Russia, Chavez said that the two nations had formed a strategic partnership and that he was buying a Russian defensive missile system to thwart a potential U.S. air attack. In recent months, Chavez advisors have said Venezuela was considering the purchase of as many as five diesel-powered Russian submarines. The deal would make Venezuela the region's top naval force, said retired Gen. Alberto Muller Rojas, a Chavez confidant. Venezuelan officials have justified arms purchases from Russia by noting the U.S. ban on all weapons sales by American companies to Venezuela, a mandate that extends to foreign manufacturers' arms that contain U.S. components. Chavez's planned deals with Israeli, Swedish and Spanish arms manufacturers were scrubbed because they included U.S. parts and instruments.
The Venezuelan president has said he was forced to buy aircraft from Russia after the Pentagon refused to sell him spare parts for an aging fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighters
"The U.S. administration has done everything to motivate Venezuela to seek a strategic military rapprochement with Russia," said a former advisor to Venezuela's Foreign Ministry who requested anonymity. A Pentagon official today declined to comment, referring calls to the State Department. A State Department spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Venezuela says it plans to hold joint naval exercises in its territorial waters with Russian forces in November. A senior Venezuelan naval officer said four Russian ships would take part in the exercises, which would also involve Venezuelan aircraft and submarines. Correspondents say the move is likely to raise concern in the US, whose relations with Russia have been soured by Moscow's recent conflict in Georgia. Washington already has rocky relations with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. In July, he called for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect Venezuela from the US. Caracas and Moscow agreed to extend bilateral co-operation on energy, with three Russian energy companies to be allowed to operate in Venezuela. Regional first: On Saturday, Venezuela's Rear Admiral Salbatore Cammarata Bastidas said four Russian ships and 1,000 Russian troops would take part in exercises in Venezuelan territorial waters from 10 to 14 November. "This is of great importance because it is the first time it is being done (in the Americas)," he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency and local media. President Chavez supported Russia's intervention in Georgia last month and has accused Washington of being scared of Moscow's "new world potential". Earlier, US Vice-President Dick Cheney launched a furious attack on Russia over the recent conflict in the Caucasus. Mr Cheney described Moscow's actions against Georgia as an affront to civilised standards and said it was reverting back to old Soviet tactics of intimidation and the use of brute force. He added that Russia was also seeking to use its energy resources as a weapon.
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