Monday, September 08, 2008

Cold War II -- Update

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will send a nuclear-powered battleship to the Caribbean for a joint naval exercise with Venezuela, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The maneuvers later this year will be the first Russia has conducted in Washington's traditional sphere of influence since the end of the Cold War.

Russia has heavily criticized the United States for sending a sophisticated command ship and two other naval vessels to Georgia, on its southern border, to deliver aid and show support for President Mikheil Saakashvili after Moscow sent troops into Georgia.

Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev asked on Saturday how Washington would feel "if we now dispatched humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean...using our navy."

Later that day, a Venezuelan naval official said four Russian warships would visit the Caribbean in November.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Monday that the naval mission to Venezuela would include the nuclear-powered battle cruiser "Peter the Great," one of the world's largest combat battleships.

Moscow's most modern destroyer, the "Admiral Chabanenko," will also steam to the Caribbean, along with other ships, including a fuel tanker, he added.

Russia denied that the move amounted to retaliation against the United States over its action Georgia.

"We are talking about a planned event not linked with current political circumstances and not in any way connected to events in Georgia," he told a news briefing. The exercises "will in no way be directed against the interests of a third country."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the United States, said during a visit to Moscow in July that Russian warships or warplanes were welcome to visit.

"If some day a Russian fleet arrived in the Caribbean, we will raise flags, we would beat drums and play the national anthem of Venezuela and the national anthem of Russia because it would be the arrival of a friend," he said.

Chavez is a major arms client of Moscow, saying he needs Russian weaponry to dissuade "the North American empire" from invading his country.

Medvedev responded by declaring that Venezuela was "the most important partner" of Russia in the region.

Chavez has bought fighter jets and submarines from Russia to retool Venezuela's aging weapons and says he is also interested in a missile defense system.

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