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Venezuela-Russia naval drills draw attention
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16:18, December 04, 2008

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Russia and Venezuela ended their three-day naval drills in the Caribbean Sea on Wednesday, December 3rd. This was the first-ever presence of Russian naval forces on the Caribbean after the conclusion of cold war, and it arrested growing multiple attention worldwide.

The ship maneuvers, codenamed as the "Venezuela-Russia 2008", were held in Venezuela's economic zone. On Monday, December 1st, Venezuela and Russia sent five vessels, comprising the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, the destroyer Admiral Chabaneko and support ships. The exercises, led by the flagship Peter the Great and coordinated for "joint defense"maneuvers, lasted for nine hours. Some 1,600 Russian forces traveling on four Russian ships were joining 700 Venezuelans for patrol and rescue exercises on the Caribbean Sea.

In the last three days, the naval forces of Russia and Venezuela performed air defense maneuvers, mid-air refueling, ship tracking and an integration on helicopters and fighters, as well as tactic drills to counter terrorism and drug smuggling. Luis Morales, the chief naval operation commander of Venezuela, said his naval forces have learned from the Russian navy the knowledge of telecommunications and the use of weaponry, which would help enhance its defense capability.

The naval drills have received high attention from top authorities of both nations. On Nov. 27, President Hugo Chavez and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev inspected the destroyer "Admiral Chabaneko" docked at La Guaira Port, and they together scrutinized its outer and interior facilities; President Medvedev gave Hugo Chavez an account of the weaponry aboard and, afterwards they were briefed on the joint naval exercises.

Chavez, who has long been known for his distinct anti-U.S. stance, was however particularly discreet this time. He reiterated that the joint drills were performed for a "peace mission" rather than challenge the United States. Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev said Venezuela is one of Russia's strategic, priority partners in Latin America and that both nations stand for the shaping of a multi-polar world.

Russia, which has bent on joint military drills to be held in the "backyard" of the U.S., is in direct response to the U.S. moves to create a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and to support anti-Russian governments bordering Russia, critics acknowledged. The symbolic significance of the joint exercises is apparent, and Venezuelan-Russian military cooperation has just started.

The United States paid close attention to the drills, but did not regard it as a substantial threat. US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there was no problem with the Venezuelan-Russian military drills but that they followed it closely. On this very issue, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Nov. 26 that "a few Russian ships are not going to change the balance of power in the Western Hemisphere."

Nevertheless, the U.S. has betrayed some worries about the Russia's move to sell arms to Venezuela. In recent years, the Chavez government is reported to have signed with Russia 4.4 billion dollars in bilateral arms deals since 2005. Besides, the Russian side is said to have reached the decision to extend to Venezuela a billion-dollar loan for a military cooperation program, under which Venezuela is interested in purchasing from it Amur-class submarines Tor-MI, Osa-10 air-defense missile systems, IL-78 MIDAS mid-air refueling aircraft and other sophisticated weapons. Furthermore, Venezuela intends to buy armored vehicles and helicopters.

Following the naval maneuvers, Venezuela and Russia also very much want to maintain and further boost military (technical) cooperation. Russian navy has invited Venezuelan fleet to visit Russia, and both sides are expected to conduct a series of military cooperation in the North Sea, according to latest Venezuelan media reports. So, Venezuela has truly become Russia's important global strategic partner.

By People's Daily Online, and its author is PD resident reporter in Venezuela Zhang Weizhong

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