Russian fleet reaches Venezuela for joint manoeuvres

November 26th, 2008 - 4:40 pm ICT by IANS  

F-16La Guaira (Venezuela), Nov 26 (IANS) A Russian naval squadron docked at this port near Caracas to start joint manoeuvres with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean, EFE reported Wednesday.The fleet, which included the heavy nuclear-powered cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter, The Great), the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, a tanker and a tugboat arrived at a naval dock in La Guaira, some 30 km north of Caracas.

The Chabanenko and the two support vessels entered the port and shot off a 21-gun salute to its Venezuelan hosts, who responded with an equal number of welcoming salvos.

Too heavy for the shallow waters inside the port, the Pyotr Veliky cast anchor at the roadstead.

The arrival of the Russian flotilla coincides with the visit to Venezuela of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who will arrive Wednesday for a two-day visit.

At a press conference with foreign correspondents in Miraflores Palace, Chavez said that there was “no provocation” in the joint manoeuvres, rejecting the suggestion that he is “trying to speculate” about a new Cold War.

The exact spot of the war games is not mentioned. Venezuela has a very big slice of the Caribbean within its territorial waters bordering Puerto Rico.

The commander of Venezuela’s armed forces, General Jesus Gonzalez Gonzalez said the joint naval exercises and any new arms deals that could emerge from Medvedev’s visit would be to guarantee Venezuela’s “territorial integrity.”

“We want to have sufficient deterrence to ensure that our territorial area is guaranteed,” the general said.

Medvedev’s visit could lead to agreements for Venezuela to purchase of additional Russian weaponry including T-72M tanks and BMP-3 armoured infantry vehicles, Gonzalez said.

He added that Caracas is also studying the possibility of acquiring missile batteries, air defence systems, submarines, patrol aircraft and helicopters.

The general said the purchases are intended to resolve “historical deficiencies” in the Venezuelan armed forces.

He also said that the need to turn to Russia for such materiel is the result of Washington’s refusal to sell military hardware to Venezuela or to provide promised maintenance and spare parts for the F-16 warplanes the United States sold Caracas in the 1980s.

The ban on arms sales has been imposed by the Bush administration, which labels Chavez “authoritarian” and accuses him of trying to destabilize the region, while the leftist leader denounces US “imperialism.”

Between 2005 and 2007, Venezuela bought $4.4 billion worth of armament from Russia worth $4.4 billion, including 24 Sukhoi-30 fighter-bombers, 50 helicopters and 100,000 AK-103 combat rifles.

Russia, which turned away from the region following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been looking to rebuild its relations with Latin America with the same speed it is trying to strengthen its ties with China.

After the summit in Lima, Medvedev is to travel to Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba, his first Latin American tour as president. In Caracas, he is likely to seal new arms deals worth billions of dollars.

While China is primarily seeking to consolidate its economic ties with Latin America, Russia is focusing on the arms business and is trying to cement relations with the countries of the region critical of the US like Cuba and Venezuela.

Russia’s economic entry into Latin America is only just starting, for example through Gazprom’s cooperation with Venezuelan state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

The presence and prestige of the US in Latin America has been weakened under the eight-year Bush administration. The deepening global financial crisis, which started off in the US, has further weakened the hold of the only superpower that survived the Cold War in its effort to lead a unipolar world.

Former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has insisted that Latin America has become a key element in the development of a multipolar world and therefore focus of post-Soviet Russian foreign policy.

Venezuela bought Russian weapons worth $4.4 billion between 2005 and 2008. Military cooperation with Cuba, naval manoeuvres off the Venezuelan coast and flights of long-range Russian nuclear-capable fighter planes are new elements of moscow’s thrust to the region.

Moscow is also stepping up its activities in the region in the wake of US plans for a radar and missile-interception system in Central Europe and as US ally Georgia seeks to join NATO.

Washington, in turn, reactivated its Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean and the South Atlantic.

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