Russia flexed its muscles in America’s backyard Tuesday as it sent one of its largest warships to join military exercises in the Caribbean. The nuclear-powered flagship Peter the Great set off for Venezuela with the submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support vessels in the first Russian naval mission in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.
“The St Andrew flag, the flag of the Russian Navy, is confidently returning to the world oceans,” said Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy. He declined to comment on Russian newspaper reports that nuclear submarines were also part of the expedition.
The voyage to join the Venezuelan Navy for operations came only days after Russian strategic nuclear bombers made their first visit to the country. Hugo Chavez, the President, said then that the arrival of the strike force was a warning to the U.S. The anti-American Venezuelan leader is due to visit Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow this week as part of a tour that includes visits to Cuba and China.
Peter the Great is armed with 20 nuclear cruise missiles and up to 500 surface-to-air missiles, making it one of the most formidable warships in the world. The Kremlin has courted Venezuela and Cuba as tensions with the West soared over the proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe and the Russian invasion of Georgia last month.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said recently that Russia should “restore its position in Cuba” — the nation where deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in 1962 brought Russia and the United States to the brink of nuclear war.
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin made clear that Russia would challenge the U.S. for influence in Latin America after visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba last week. He said: “It would be wrong to talk about one nation having exclusive rights to this zone.”