MOSCOW, Russia – Russia downplayed the two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic long-range bombers that flew to Venezuela on Thursday in the first such flight since the Cold War, saying the bombers carried no live weapons (nuclear or otherwise) and would turn back to Russia next week.
Russian analysts said it was the first time strategic bombers have landed in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War. The foray, and the coming military exercises with an avowed US enemy, is like to strain the tense relationship between Moscow and Washington.
The Tu-160 bombers arrived in South America ahead of planned joint military maneuvers between Russia and Venezuela – maneuvers that appear to be a tit-for-tat retort to the United States for sending warships to deliver air to U.S. allied Georgia following last month’s war.
Russian Air Force Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov said in televised comment that the Tu-160s were only carrying test missiles. The jets would conduct several test flights over neutral waters then return to Russia on Monday. That indicates that the jets would not participate in military exercise that Venezuela and Russia plan to hold in the Caribbean Sea sometime this year.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he had ordered the Tu-160s to make the flight at the invitation of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has expressed interest in flying the massive bombers.
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