Moscow Says Strategic Bombers Return To Russia After Stay In Venezuela
By RFE/RL December 15, 2018
Russia says two nuclear-capable bombers whose flight to Venezuela prompted criticism from the United States and other countries in the Americas have returned to their home airfield.
"The long-range aircraft flew through the airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Norwegian and Barents Seas," the Russian Defense Ministry said early on December 15, according to state-run TASS news agency.
"The Tu-160 strategic bombers flew over 12,000 kilometers and refueled in the air," it said, according to TASS.
The planes arrived on December 10 at an airport outside of Caracas, angering the United States and raising the concerns of the Organization of American States (OAS).
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a posting to Twitter, said that the "Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on December 11 that Pompeo's comments were "undiplomatic" and "completely inappropriate."
The OAS expressed the "greatest concern" about the arrival of the "aircraft capable of using nuclear weapons from Russia" on Venezuelan territory.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made public remarks about using the "military option" to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. Maduro has accused the United States of attempting to assassinate him.
Known as Blackjacks by NATO members, the Tu-160 can fly at twice the speed of sound and is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional missiles.
The bombers' arrival came just days after Maduro visited Moscow, seeking Kremlin support for his country, whose economy is in shambles and which is deeply in debt to Russia.
Venezuela has purchased millions of dollars in military equipment from Russia in recent years.
Oil-rich Venezuela has been racked by economic and political crises since 2010 under leftist leader Hugo Chavez that has continued into Maduro's presidency.
Millions have fled the country, driven by violence, hyperinflation, and major shortages of food and other basic goods.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and TASS
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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