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Russian Military conducts exercises with warships and aircraft in the Caribbean

Russian Military conducts exercises with warships and aircraft in the Caribbean

Russian Military conducts exercises with warships and aircraft in the Caribbean

Russian Military conducts exercises with warships and aircraft in the Caribbean

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  • Observers see the mission as a reminder to Washington that it is unpleasant when an adversary meddles in your near abroad.
  • Observers expected Russian ships to remain in the region through the summer.
  • Russia has previously visited Venezuela and Cuba, with regular dockings in Havana since 2008.
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On Wednesday, a fleet of Russian warships and aircraft entered the Caribbean, perceived by some as a projection of strength amid rising tensions over Western support for Ukraine. The US military anticipates that the exercises will involve a handful of Russian ships and support vessels, with the possibility of stops in Venezuela.

Less than two weeks after President Joe Biden authorized Ukraine to use US-provided weapons to strike inside Russia to protect Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, President Vladimir Putin suggested that his military could respond with “asymmetrical steps” elsewhere in the world. This mission by Russian warships and aircraft into the Caribbean, where Russia has longstanding alliances with Venezuela and Cuba, follows that statement.

“Most of all, the warships are a reminder to Washington that it is unpleasant when an adversary meddles in your near abroad,” said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank, referring to the Western involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine. “It also reminds Russia’s friends in the region, including US antagonists Cuba and Venezuela, that Moscow is on their side.”

Although the fleet includes a nuclear-powered submarine, a senior US administration official informed The Associated Press that the intelligence community has determined that no vessel is carrying nuclear weapons. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details that had not been announced publicly, stated that Russia’s deployments “pose no direct threat to the United States.”

Last week, US officials indicated an expectation that the Russian ships would remain in the region through the summer. In December 2018, the Russian military described a pair of Russian nuclear-capable Tu-160 strategic bombers visiting Venezuela as a training mission. Additionally, Russia sent Tu-160s and a missile cruiser to Venezuela in 2008 amid tensions with the US following Russia’s brief war with Georgia. In 2013, a pair of Tu-160s also visited Venezuela.

Since 2008, Russian ships have occasionally docked in Havana. In that year, a group of Russian vessels entered Cuban waters, described by state media as the first such visit in almost two decades. In 2015, a reconnaissance and communications ship arrived unannounced in Havana a day before the start of discussions between US and Cuban officials on the reopening of diplomatic relations.

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A State Department spokesperson informed the AP that Russia’s port calls in Cuba are considered “routine naval visits,” while also acknowledging that its military exercises “have intensified due to US support to Ukraine and exercise activity in support of our NATO allies.”

Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, stated that Russian military and defense doctrine considers Latin America and the Caribbean to be in an important position, viewing the sphere as a counterweight to Washington’s activities in Europe, which are seen as under US influence.

“While this is likely little more than provocation from Moscow, it sends a message about Russia’s ability to project power into the Western Hemisphere with the help of its allies, and it will certainly keep the US military on high alert while they are in theater,” Berg said.

The timing of this year’s mission may serve Russia’s purposes, but it is also raising questions about whether Venezuela’s government may use it as an opportunity to shore up President Nicolás Maduro’s bid for a third term in the July 28 election.

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