The New York Times
September 22, 2008
MOSCOW — A squadron from the Russian Navy’s North Sea Fleet sailed for Venezuela on Monday, a Russian Navy spokesman said, in a bid by Russia to bolster military links in Latin America as relations with the United States continue to deteriorate.
The convoy — including the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great and the anti-submarine ship Admiral Chabanenko — left the fleet’s base in Severomorsk bound for the Venezuelan coast, where the ships will take part in joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan Navy sometime in November, said Igor Dygalo, a Russian Navy spokesman.
Stung by the West’s strong condemnation of Russia’s actions in last month’s war with Georgia, Moscow appears to have redoubled its efforts to strengthen ties with Venezuela, Cuba and other Latin American countries, in moves reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s proxy battles with the United States in the region during the Cold War.
Last week, two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers flew to Venezuela for exercises over the Caribbean Sea, and a Russian delegation led by Igor I. Sechin, a deputy prime minister and chairman of the Russian oil company Rosneft, visited Caracas and Havana for talks on expanding economic ties. It was Mr. Sechin’s second visit to the region in less than two months.
The decision to deploy Russian warships so close to the American coastline could also be linked to the Kremlin’s frustration over the presence of NATO and American naval vessels in the Black Sea, a region Moscow considers its sphere of influence. Earlier this month, an American naval ship delivered humanitarian aid to Georgia in one of the country’s Black Sea ports.
Russia has denied that the war in Georgia had any connection to the Russian navy’s planned exercises with Venezuela. “These exercises were planned long before the Georgian-Ossetian conflict,” Mr. Dygalo said. “They are not linked to the conflict.”
Meanwhile, Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, plans to visit Russia this week, his second visit in two months.
In an interview broadcast by Russia’s Vesti 24 television on Saturday, Mr. Chávez said Latin America was freeing itself from the “imperial” influence from the United States and needed Russia’s friendship.
“Not only Venezuela, but all of Latin America needs friends like Russia,” Mr. Chavez said. “For economic development, for the support of all Latin America, for the lives of the people of our continent.”