Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russian nuclear-capable bombers have arrived in Venezuela for unprecedented joint exercises in the Caribbean, which would later be joined by Russian warships, including nuclear submarines.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he had ordered strategic bombers to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Two Tu-160s, the world’s biggest long-range bombers, landed in Venezuela on Wednesday in the first Russian military foray into the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War ended.

The Russian Defence Ministry said the bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission and would conduct training flights over neutral waters before returning to Russia next Monday.

“The Yankee hegemony is finished,” said Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in a televised speech announcing the arrival of Russia’s warplanes. Mr. Chavez, a former Air Force pilot, said he would pilot one of the Russian planes over Cuba to please his friend, the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Russia’s Navy plans to send a nuclear cruiser flagship, submarines and anti-ship aircraft to Venezuela for joint naval manoeuvres later this year.

Mr. Medvedev said Russia would continue to hold joint war games with its partners across the world. The commander of Russia’s long-range military aviation, General Pavel Androsov, said Latin America was an “interesting region” for Russian bomber flights because the U.S. was setting up a new fleet there.

The deployment marks the first time that Russian bombers have been sent to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War ended and escalates the already tense relationship between Washington and Moscow.

Mr. Medvedev said Russia attaches top priority to upgrading its armed forces in the face of the NATO-backed military build-up in the Caucasus.

“We will pursue the task of re-equipping our armed forces in a consistent and dedicated way, taking into account… Georgia’s aggression and its continuing militarisation,” said Mr. Medvedev at a Kremlin meeting.