Russia has started transferring Tu-160 strategic bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, to Venezuela.
“This will be the seventh “sortie” by Russian strategic aircraft in the last three months – the frequency of flights is increasing, and this is perceived by the US as provocation,” says Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon official.
At the end of October, Tu-160 bombers were spotted on the Norwegian border. British and Norwegian fighters were scrambled to intercept them.
In August, they were spotted flying across the North Pole, which is “very unusual”, and indicates that a potential target of the training flights could be the US itself, Schneider supposes.
The Pentagon will closely monitor the flights of the Russian Tu-160s, which are capable of firing cruise missile against targets in US territory, Free Beacon sources note.
The decision to transfer strategic aircraft to Venezuela was made shortly after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visited Moscow last week and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After the meeting, Putin thanked Maduro for his “efforts” to build a “multipolar world”. According to Maduro, Putin also promised a $6 billion investment into the Venezuelan economy, which has been defaulting on its foreign debt for more than a year, and experiencing hyperinflation in excess of 1 million percent.
The transfer of the bombers – the heaviest military planes in the world – began on Monday, Interfax reports, citing aircraft monitoring resources.
The Russian missile carriers were spotted over the Atlantic, north-west of Scotland: the “Nikolay Kuznetsov” (RF-94100) and the “Vladimir Sudets” (RF-94108).
Two other Russian military aircraft, an An-124 (“Ruslan”) and an Il-26, had already reached Venezuela by Monday morning.
The last time Russia deployed strategic bombers in Venezuela was in September 2008, against the backdrop of the war with Georgia. At the time, they conducted drills over international waters just off the Venezuelan cost.
Russian aircraft are still being flown to Venezuelan airfields, and Russian military ships will also visit the country’s ports, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said last week.