Chavez Tightens Union With Russia By Allowing Use Of Base For Russian Planes
By Dialogo March 16, 2009Venezuela has confirmed its offer to let Russia station planes in their base on the island of La Orchila in the Venezuelan Caribbean, an agreement that tightens cooperation between both countries in the area of defense. "I only told the President (of Russia, Dimitri) Medvedev that when Russian aviators need to land in Venezuela as part of their strategic plans, Venezuela is ready, as we were recently," said President Hugo Chávez during "Hello, President," his Sunday speech. However, he denied that the measure involves the installation of a permanent Russian base on the island. "They are saying that I offered Orchila to the Russians; you know that this is not the case," he told his audience. Venezuela’s offer further strengthens the bilateral relationship that increased with the maneuvers of Russian ships and planes in Venezuelan territory last November. On Saturday, General Anatoly Zhijarev, Chief of Staff of the Russian strategic air force, said that Chavez had offered Russia the military airfield on the island of La Orchila (north) for its strategic bombers, but first it must be renovated. "Yes, the President of Venezuela has made a proposal. If there is an appropriate political decision, it is possible," the general added. According to Zhijarev, Cuba would also have been willing to provide facilities for the Russian aircraft. "It is possible with Cuba (...) If it is the will of the two states, the political will, we are ready to fly there," added the general. This is the latest evidence that Moscow wants to extend its military capabilities to new parts of the globe, far from Russian territory, despite a limited military budget and equipment that, according to some experts, is largely obsolete. Last year Russia sent two Tu-160 bombers capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles with nuclear warheads to the Libertador military airfield in Venezuela for some exercises, a maneuver unprecedented since the end of the Cold War. In late 2008, a Russian fleet led by the nuclear-powered cruiser "Peter the Great" participated in joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean, coinciding with a visit to the region of the Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. According to the Russian agency Interfax, there are three types of Russian bombers capable of long-range patrols: the Tu-95MS, the Tu-160, and the Tu-223M3. The Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has dismissed the possibility that his country would seek the installation of permanent bases in Cuba and Venezuela, "although we have agreements with the authorities in Venezuela, and I think that Cuba would not object."