Two Tu-160 Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Caracas. Russian aircraft have carried out a 10,000-kilometer flight from Russia to Venezuela, being shadowed by Norwegian F-16 fighter jets along the way.
The long-range strategic bombers landed at Simón Bolívar airport with two other Russian planes confirmed to be an An-124 transport plane and an Il-62 passenger plane.
Capable of carrying short-range nuclear missiles, the Russian supersonic bombers can fly over 7,500 miles without re-fuelling and last landed in Venezuela in 2008 and 2013.
Russia says a pair of its Tu-160 Blackjacks flew a 10-hour patrol over the Caribbean Sea from a base in Venezuela. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the sorties over the Caribbean had taken place on Dec. 12, 2018.
Venezuelan Air Force F-16A/B Viper and Su-30MKV Flanker-C fighter jets also flew with the bombers during certain points of the mission, according to Russia.
“During the international visit of the Aerospace Defense Forces’ delegation to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, pilots of strategic bombers Tu-160 conducted a flight in the airspace over the Caribbean Sea. The flight lasted for about 10 hours,” according to a Russian Defense Ministry press release. “In certain parts of the route, the flight of Russian bombers was conducted together with Su-30 and F-16 fighter jets of the Venezuelan National Bolivarian Military Aviation. The pilots from the two countries practiced air cooperation when fulfilling air tasks.”
The U.S. government, which is highly critical of Venezuela’s dictatorial President Nicolás Maduro, admonished the Russians for sending the contingent to the country.
“Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tweeted out on Dec. 10, 2018. “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”
These two satellite photos, provided by DigitalGlobe, show four Russian military aircraft in Venezuela. The two Russian nuclear-capable bombers arrived in the South American country on Dec. 10.
This new deployment appears to be another signal from both Russia and Venezuela to the United States and its allies to stay out of Venezuelan affairs. There have been a number of reports that U.S. President Donald Trump has been personally supportive of a military intervention in the country to unseat Maduro, who has increasingly clamped down on political dissent and consolidated his own power in recent years. Certain members of Congress have implicitly voiced support for a military coup to bring down the government.
Any Russian bombers or similarly long-range aircraft in the region conducting regular flights in the Caribbean would be something of a thorn in the side of the U.S. government. It’s, of course, worth noting that the U.S. military routinely flies along the edge of Russia’s airspace, especially in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions, and the Kremlin has long been eager to do the same to the United States more broadly. At present, Russian planes generally only conduct similar flights near Alaska.
Regardless, the deployment does show that Russia remains intent on proving it continues to be capable of worldwide military operations and that it is willing and able, at least to some degree, to come to the aid of its international partners. It also reflects an eagerness to challenge the United States in its own proverbial backyard, something that the Kremlin has already been doing through a significant uptick in submarine activity in the North Atlantic Ocean, in particular.