“We are preparing to defend Venezuela to the last inch when necessary.”
Two Russian Tupolev-160 long-range strategic bombers that landed in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 10 sparked outrage and condemnation from U.S. officials. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the landing of the Russian supersonic bombers in Venezuela signified a marriage of “two corrupt governments.”
“Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela,” Pompeo tweeted. “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.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Pompeo’s comments “completely inappropriate” and “very undiplomatic.”
The bombers arrived along with two other Russian planes in a show of support for Venezuela and the Maduro administration. Venezuela and Russia are longtime allies — in 2008 and 2013, the Russians sent bombers and a missile cruiser to the country. The latest visit followed Maduro’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The bombers are capable of deploying nuclear weapons and, according to Venezuela, are there to take part in air force exercises with Venezuela.
“This we are going to do with our friends, because we have friends in the world who defend respectful, balanced relations,” said Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino.
“We are preparing to defend Venezuela to the last inch when necessary,” Padrino added, referring to Venezuela’s frequent allegations that imperialist powers are attempting to topple the Maduro administration.
US defense department spokesman Col. Rob Manning contrasted the US sending a Navy hospital ship to provide drugs and humanitarian support to Venezuelan refugees with Russia sending bombers to militarize and escalate tensions.
The Tupolev-160 bomber is also known as White Swan in Russia but code-named Blackjacks by NATO. It has a maximum speed twice that of sound and can fly over 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles). Russia sent the Tu-160, which is capable of carrying nuclear weapons, to Syria during its recent civil war.
The U.S. has also sent planes to overseas allies located close to Russia. In early December, the U.S. announced it carried out an “extraordinary” flight over Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty to show its support for Ukraine after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off Crimea.