The two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers which arrived in Venezuela earlier this week have made a roughly 10-hour flight over the Caribbean Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on Wednesday evening.
The Defense Ministry’s report notes that the Tu-160 missile carriers were accompanied at certain stages of the route by Su-30 fighters as well as F-16s from the Venezuelan Air Force. During the flights, pilots from both countries practiced cooperating in the air.
The Russian military department emphasizes that the flight was made “in strict compliance with the international rules for airspace use”.
News that Russia was transferring two Tu-160 strategic bombers to Venezuela came out on Monday. The Russian Defense Ministry also announced that an An-124 Ruslan heavy military transport plane and a long-range Il-62 plane were being sent to the Latin American country. The Russian aircraft flew through airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Barents, Norwegian and Caribbean seas, a total distance in excess of 10,000 km.
The planes were supposedly transferred in order to carry out “military exercises”.
The relocation of the Russian military aircraft to the South American continent has caught the attention of the US. The Washington Free Beacon, citing anonymous sources in the Pentagon, called the transfer of the Tu-160s a “provocative flight”, and noted that Washington will be closely monitoring the movement of the Russian strategic planes “in view of their capability to fire cruise missiles with nuclear warheads at American targets”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented later, calling the transfer of the Tu-160s to Venezuela a “squandering of state funds”. The Kremlin responded that this statement was “undiplomatic” and a “serious accusation”. “Especially, perhaps, to make such statements in a country where half of its defense budget could feed all of Africa, but also, perhaps, it is not quite appropriate,” remarked Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
One day after the transfer, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders commented on the situation. She told reporters that Moscow had given its assurance that the strategic bombers would not remain in Venezuela for long. “We have spoken to representatives of Russia, and they told us that their military planes that have arrived in Venezuela will fly out on Friday and return to Russia,” Sanders noted.