Russia to continue overseas military maneuvers

President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Thursday to beef up Russian military arsenals and warned that Russia could follow its dispatch of a pair of bombers to Venezuela by deploying forces to other friendly nations.

Medvedev, speaking to top military officials in the Kremlin, said Russia will send its forces for maneuvers on the territories of ex-Soviet neighbors that are members of a Moscow-dominated security pact, as well as to unspecified other countries.

"We will also do this together with other nations who want to expand military and military-technical cooperation with Russia," Medvedev said in televised remarks.

Medvedev said he had ordered the Tu-160 bombers to fly to Venezuela on Wednesday at the invitation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We will do it in other places as well," Medvedev said. "That will clearly benefit the Russian armed forces."

The flight was the first such deployment to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War and seemed certain to add to further strain Russia's relations with the United States, already frayed because of Russia's war in Georgia.

Medvedev said last month's war with Georgia has underlined the need to strengthen Russian military arsenals.

The Russian Air force said Thursday the bombers carried no live weapons on their flight to Venezuela — nuclear or otherwise. Air Force spokesman Vladimir Drik said the planes would return to Russia next Monday after conducting a series of flights over the Caribbean from a Venezuelan base.

In November, the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Peter the Great, accompanied by several other navy ships and long-range patrol planes, will visit Venezuela for joint naval maneuvers, Russian officials said earlier this week.

The Russian deployment appeared to be a response to the U.S. move to send warships to deliver aid to Georgia after its war last month with Russia.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the U.S. and NATO naval deployment to the Black Sea last month and threatened unspecified retaliation.

Without specifically referring to the deployment of bombers to Venezuela, Putin appeared to indicate Thursday that it was a response to the U.S. navy presence in the Black Sea.

"God forbid from engaging in any kind of controversy in the American continent; this is considered the 'holiest of the holy,'" Putin said during a meeting with Western political scholars at his Black Sea residence in Sochi. "And they drive ships with weapons to a place just 10 kilometers from where we're at? Is this normal? Is this an equitable move?"

Russian Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, the chief of Russia's long-range aviation, said the two bombers were escorted by U.S. and Norwegian fighter jets during part of their 13-hour flight over neutral waters. "They didn't hamper us from performing our mission, and we didn't hamper theirs," he said in televised remarks.

Androsov said that Russia had notified the United States and others of the bombers flight in line with international rules.

"I feel proud about the mission. There are no regions in the world to hide and escape revenge," he said.

Androsov said Russia was not planning to send bombers to Cuba, but added that the military had checked the Cuban air bases and found them in good shape to host Russian aircraft. "We have looked at its airfields, and there would be no problems in landing there," he said.

[Source: International Herald Tribune, AP, Moscow, 11Sep08]

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