Russian warships sailed into port in Venezuela on Tuesday in a show of strength as Moscow seeks to counter U.S. influence in Latin America.
Russia’s first such deployment in the Caribbean since the Cold War is timed to coincide with President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Venezuela, the first ever by a Russian president.
By Christopher Toothaker, Associated Press
The flagship of Russia’s Nothern Fleet, heavy nuclear missile cruiser “Pyotr Veliky” (Peter the Great) is seen at a mooring in Severomorsk not far from the city of Murmansk, in 2007. Russian warships approached Venezuela Monday for upcoming joint maneuvers — Moscow’s first military presence in the region since the Cold War — as Washington closely monitored the situation.(AFP/Alexander Nemenov)
Russian sailors dressed in black-and-white uniforms lined up along the bow of the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko as it docked in La Guaira, near Caracas, and Venezuelan troops greeted them with cannons in a 21-gun salute. Two support vessels also docked, and the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, Russia’s largest navy ship, anchored offshore.
Chavez, basking in the support of a powerful ally and traditional U.S. rival, wants Russian help to build a nuclear reactor, invest in oil and natural gas projects and bolster his leftist opposition to U.S. influence in the region.
He also wants weapons – Venezuela has bought more than $4 billion in Russian arms, including Sukhoi fighter jets, helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and more deals for Russian tanks or other weaponry may be discussed after Medvedev arrives Wednesday.
Russia’s ambitions in Latin America, however, may be checked by global events. Both Venezuela and Russia are feeling the pinch of slumping oil prices, and their ability to be major benefactors for like-minded leaders is in doubt given the pressures of the world’s financial crisis.
The deployment of the naval squadron is widely seen as a demonstration of Kremlin anger over the U.S. decision to send warships to deliver aid to Georgia after its battles with Russia and over U.S. plans for a European missile-defense system.
But U.S. officials mocked the show of force.
“Are they accompanied by tugboats this time?” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack joked to reporters in Washington. He noted that Russia’s navy is a shadow of its Soviet-era fleet.