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Russian Bombers Land In Venezuela for Drills
Move Likely to Rankle Washington

By Ian James and Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press
Thursday, September 11, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 10 -- Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers, President Hugo Chávez said, welcoming the unprecedented deployment at a time of increasing tensions between Russia and the United States.

Russian military analysts said it was the first time Russian strategic bombers have landed in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War. The deployment appeared likely to anger Washington and add to the strain in U.S.-Russian relations over Russia's war with Georgia.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the bombers, supersonic Tu-160s, flew to Venezuela on a training mission and would conduct flights over neutral waters in the next few days before returning home, according to a statement carried by Russian news wires.

Ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky refused to say how long the deployment would last or whether the planes were carrying weapons. Military officers have said Russian strategic bombers do not carry live weapons on patrol flights.

NATO fighter jets escorted the Russian aircraft on their 13-hour trip to Venezuela over the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the ministry said.

The Russian deployment appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. dispatch of warships to deliver aid to ally Georgia after its war last month with Russia. "This is a redux of Cold War games and a dangerous thing to do," said Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. "It will only strengthen the hand of those in the United States who want to punish Russia for its action in Georgia."

Meanwhile, NATO said Wednesday that it had ended a routine exercise by four naval ships in the Black Sea. Russia had denounced the exercise as part of a Western military buildup sparked by the Georgia conflict.

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