(CNSNews.com) – Russia’s defense ministry announced that two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers landed Wednesday at a military airfield in Venezuela, where they are scheduled to carry out training flights.
The planes, which have a range of more than 8,000 miles, traveled to the Latin American country “over neutral waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans,” and were tracked en route by NATO fighter planes, the ministry said.
The move comes several days after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the region’s most outspoken critic of Washington, said he would welcome Russian planes and warships on his country’s territory.
Russian officials earlier this week confirmed plans to hold naval exercises with Venezuela later this year, but denied any link with the current tensions between Russia and the West over Georgia.
Russia’s Itar-Tass quoted Chavez Wednesday as saying he was planning to fly one of the bombers during their visit, having trained on a simulator.
According to Argentina’s Critica newspaper, Chavez in a televised speech said the Russian bomber visit, upcoming joint naval exercises and plans to purchase weaponry from Russia and China were all part of the move towards a “pluripolar” world – a foreign policy objective of Venezuela. “The Yankee hegemony is finished and the world becomes pluripolar,” he said.
The supersonic Tu-160, named the Blackjack in NATO designation, is a supersonic aircraft capable of carrying conventional and nuclear bombs and is also fitted with strategic cruise missiles.
Globalsecurity.org reports that Russia has 14 of them in service, having lost one in a crash in 2003 in southwestern Russia.
After the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, Russia stopped sending strategic bombers on long-range flights, but it resumed the practice in August 2007. Then President – now Prime Minister – Vladimir Putin said at the time that other nations had not followed Russia’s example in suspending the flights, and this had posed security concerns for Russia.
Earlier this year, the Russian Air Force said Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers together with aerial tankers were carrying out routine patrols over neutral Atlantic waters, accompanied by NATO interceptors.