Russia challenges US dominance with Venezuela naval wargames

 

A Russian navy task force will sail into Venezuela tomorrow as President Medvedev undertakes a tour of Latin America to challenge the dominance of the United States.

The nuclear-powered Peter the Great, one of Russia’s largest warships, and the submarine destroyer Admiral Chabenenko are due to dock at La Guaira port before wargames in the Caribbean with the Venezuelan Navy. It is the first Russian naval mission to Latin America since the end of the Cold War.

The ships’ arrival comes a day before Mr Medvedev visits Venezuela to seal an agreement on strategic energy co-operation with the regime of President Chavez. The Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom will lead a consortium of the country’s largest oil and gas companies in a joint venture with Petroleos de Venezuela.

Sergei Shmatko, Russia’s Energy Minister, said that the consortium, which plans to invest billions of dollars, would become an oil and gas leader in Latin America.

The naval exercises in America’s back yard are a calculated show of defiance as the United States waits for Barack Obama to take office. Mr Chavez is vehemently anti-American and has encouraged Russia to develop military and economic ties.

Mr Medvedev harked back to the Cold War to explain Moscow’s efforts to revive its influence in Latin America. Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Peru, he said: “With many of those states in the Soviet period we had rather powerful, serious relations. The time has now come to restore those relations.”

Mr Medvedev is due to arrive in Venezuela from Brazil and will travel on to Cuba, scene of the 1962 nuclear missile crisis. Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, said in August that Russia should “restore its position in Cuba” amid speculation that it may seek to open a military base on the island as a response to the US missile defence shield in eastern Europe.

Mr Putin renewed his attack on the missile shield yesterday, telling a human rights conference in St Petersburg: “This project is aimed against the strategic potential of Russia. And we can only give it an adequate response.”

The Kremlin has described its relationship with Venezuela as a “counterweight to US influence”. Mr Putin pledged during a visit to Moscow by Mr Chavez in September to sell nuclear technology to help Venezuela to develop atomic energy.

Two Russian long-range strategic nuclear bombers landed in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, for the first time in September. Mr Chavez described their visit as a “warning” to the United States.

Igor Dygalo, the Russian Navy spokesman, said that the joint manoeuvres would begin on December 1. The Peter the Great carries 20 nuclear cruise missiles and up to 500 surface-to-air missiles.

Latin America was the focus of intense ideological competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Venezuela has signed deals to buy Russian arms worth more than $4 billion since 2005.

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