Russia sends two nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela
Another week, another batch of Russian bombers hits the news. Two Russian Tu-160 "Blackjack" strategic bombers and several other transport aircraft were sent to Venezuela on December 11, 2018, to participate in a joint exercise between the air forces of the two countries. This development is alarming for Washington, which sees the government of Venezuela as one of its adversaries.
The objective of this exercise is to train in the defense of this South American country, according to Vladimir Padrino Lopez, Venezuelan Minister of Defense. “We must tell the Venezuelan people and the world that, just as we cooperate in various fields of development for both peoples, we are also preparing to defend Venezuela," said Lopez. The two air forces will test their interoperability.
The Tu-160 is a supersonic bomber capable of carrying 16 nuclear missiles and up to 40 tons of ordnance while being able to reach a speed of 2,200 km/h (1,367 mph) and with a range of 13,200 km (8,202 miles). The ones that flew in Venezuela were accompanied by two military transport planes, an An-124 and an Il-62, with hundreds of Russian pilots and personnel on board.
The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, is known for his relentless accusations aimed at the United States, claiming they may be planning a military coup to destitute him. The U.S. government reacted to the information, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeting:
#Russia's government has sent bombers halfway around the world to #Venezuela. 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. pic.twitter.com/bCBGbGtaHT— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 11, 2018
It is not a first time that the presence of Blackjacks caused an outrage in the region. On November 1, 2013, two bombers flying between Venezuela and Nicaragua angered Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos after they entered his country’s airspace.
In Europe, Russian strategic bombers are often at the center of controversies as they near other countries airspace. The last occurrence was on October 31, 2018, when two Tu-160s flew near a NATO exercise in Norway, prompting the Royal Air Force to scramble two Eurofighter Typhoons for interception. In August 2018, they were also sighted for the first time at the Bering strait between Russia and the United States.
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