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Russian ships wrap up exercises with Venezuela

Dec. 2, 2008 - 03:59PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 2, 2008 - 03:59PM  |  
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CARACAS, Venezuela — Russian warships have ended training exercises with Venezuela's navy in Moscow's first such Caribbean deployment since the Cold War.

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Russian warships have ended training exercises with Venezuela's navy in Moscow's first such Caribbean deployment since the Cold War.

Russian television on Tuesday showed images of a Venezuelan-operated Sukhoi fighter jet swooping low over Russian warships in a simulated air attack.

The exercises that ended late Monday with a fireworks display included an air defense exercise and joint actions to spot, pursue and detain an intruding vessel, Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said.

The Russian ships arrived in Venezuela last week in an operation widely seen as a show of Kremlin anger over the U.S. decision to deliver aid to Georgia aboard warships following that country's conflict with Russia.

President Hugo Chavez has said the naval exercises weren't meant as a provocation to the U.S. or any other nation. He has praised Russia for raising its profile in the Americas, while saying the U.S. Navy's recently reactivated 4th Fleet poses a threat to Venezuela.

U.S. officials say 4th Fleet, which was dissolved after World War II, will help maintain security in the Caribbean and Latin America while performing humanitarian missions and counterdrug operations.

This week's joint naval exercises featured helicopters dropping special operations soldiers onto a ship as if it had been "seized by terrorists," according to a report on state-run Rossiya television.

Russia sent the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and support ships, and Russian television said they were joined by three Venezuelan frigates for the exercises, dubbed "Venrus 2008."

Rossiya television reported that the Venezuelan warships returned home and the Russian squadron left the area. It broadcast footage of a farewell fireworks display and Russian sailors waving their caps in a farewell gesture.

Russian television reported that the ships operated with joint Russian-Venezuelan crews. At one point, Rossiya reported, the commander of the Russian squadron captained a Venezuelan frigate while Venezuelan Rear Adm. Luis Morales acted as captain of the Peter the Great.

Venezuela has previously held military training with Brazil, the Netherlands and other nations.

Soviet ships and planes regularly visited Cuba during the Cold War, but Russian troops have been largely absent from the region since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

The Russian ships sailed into a Venezuelan port last week for a visit timed to coincide with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's talks with Chavez in Caracas.

Venezuela has bought more than $4 billion in Russian arms, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, helicopters and the Sukhoi fighter jets used in this week's training.

Chavez, a former army paratroop commander, says he is trying to transform Venezuela into a socialist country, and views Russia as a key ally in moving toward a "multipolar" world with less U.S. influence.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel was aboard one of the ships on Monday. Rossiya television showed him thanking the Russians and reciting the motto often used by Chavez: "Fatherland, socialism or death! We will prevail!"

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