The Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie offers a rather sober analysis of the upcoming exercises with Venezuela and the geopolitical factors entitled "Caribbean Crisis Syndrome". Part I of the translation of this aricle follows:
A new political standoff between the United States and Russia is forming in Latin America. Signs of this include sale of SU-30MK2 multi-role fighters to the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez and the construction of a factory to manufacture Kalashnikovs. Moscow is ready to send a detachment of ships to the Caribbean Sea and Washington is re-creating the 4th Fleet which was originally disbanded in 1950 which will constantly cruise off South American shores.
The standoff between Moscow and Washington enters a new phase. Between 10 and 14 November, immediately after the American presidential elections, joint exercises between the Bolivar Republic’s Navy and the Russian Pacific Fleet (sic) will take place in the territorial waters of Venezuela, or more exactly, in the Caribbean Sea which washes the shores of Central America. This is a first in the history of the Latin American continent. And although these maneuvers were planned last year (that is Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotskiy has talked about sending a detachment of ships across the Atlantic without giving away any details), but after the entrance into the Black Sea by ships of the American 6th Fleet and other NATO navies, they took on a new quality; that is to say, a clear call upon the White House by the Kremlin.
That is attested by the announcement by the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting with journalists on 02 September underlining that our reaction to the presence of American ships in the Black Sea will be adequate. Then, he didn’t give any specific details. He said, “You’ll see.” Now, after the Sunday edition of the Venezuelan program “Hello, President!” the head of the Venezuelan state Hugo Chavez announced to his countrymen that, “Ships of the Russian Navy are planning to visit Venezuela in the near future for a friendly port call,” and the official Venezuelan Navy spokesman Rear Admiral Salvadtor Cammarata Batistas even named the time frame in which the exercises were to be held as well as the participants, it has become completely clear that the exercises must be accomplished. Colonel Chavez also did not fail to mention that, “Venezuela is a strategic ally of Russia and in the framework of the proposed exercises the Venezuelan side, despite her meager resources, will do everything possible to ensure that the exercises that take place are of the highest quality.”
It is true that after Hugo Chavez corrected his admiral, he noticed that the training would take place in the November-December timeframe, but nothing has changed about the proposed maneuvers. A slight correction was applied to the announcement of Russian ships deploying to American shores and to the statements of Venezuelan officials. It turned out that the ships would come from the Northern Fleet and not the Pacific as earlier announced. The heavy missile cruiser (TRKR) Peter the Great, the large anti-submarine warfare (BPK) ship Admiral Chabanenko, a tanker and a fleet tug are participating. On the Venezuelan side, missile frigates, patrol boats, submarines and aviation assets will participate. Russian aviation will also make an appearance – anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft which will subsequently land at Caracas’ military airfield, and also strategic bombers and accompanying IL-78 tankers. American officials announced that they know about the proposed exercises. The assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs Thomas Shannon said that, “The two sides have different intentions with regards to the exercises,” while a representative for the foreign political branch in Washington Sean McCormack even snarked, “The Russians found some ships that can make it that far.”
In the background to these announcements and situations which lurk in the relations between Caracas and Washington and between Washington and Moscow, it is becoming clear that the proposed naval exercises have already become not only an example of the cooperation between two navies, the Russian Navy and the Venezuelan Navy, but also, above all, a demonstration of political force and a clear signal to the White House: we can also deploy our task forces to your shores. Draw your own conclusions from that.
During a meeting of the European countries this summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that she doesn’t like the flights of the “Bears” (Tu-95MS) along the coast of America. And last Saturday, 30 August, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev expressed his dissatisfaction with the delivery of humanitarian aid to Georgia by US warships. He noted that, “It is interesting how they (the USA) would feel if we delivered humanitarian aid to the countries of the Caribbean basin that recently suffered from hurricanes using our warships”. And the latest announcement about the Caribbean deployment, practically to the southern shores of the United States shows that Moscow and Washington aren’t planning on greeting one another with a “friendly dip of the ensigns”. As to what that could lead to isn’t hard to imagine.
The Exercise Scenario
It became known to the Nezavisimoe Boennoe Obozrenie that in addition to the thousands of personnel who will accompany the four ship surface task force (including a battalion of marines), submarines will also go to Venezuela. First and foremost nuclear submarines. Multi-role as well as strategic. Strategic Tu-95MS bombers of the type that annoyed Rice and her colleagues in the US government will also fly there in the framework of the “complex of exercises”.
In addition, as opposed to the exercises that took place in December and January 2008 in the Atlantic Ocean, when those bombers made a circle above the Russian ships and went home, now these planes will make a landing at airfields in Caracas, seemingly demonstrating that the “Bear” flights can be more than training flights; that the USA is as vulnerable to military threats as the USA poses to other countries. And the American anti-missile system in Europe cannot guarantee the absolute security of Washington like they suppose it can. And most of all Russia now has a reliable ally in Latin America.
It is true that four Russian ships off the coast of Venezuela, even operating jointly with submarines and strategic bombers wont change the weather in the area. The United States has rather more political, diplomatic, economic, financial and military power potential to show Russia who is the boss in the Caribbean basin. And to reinforce Russian forces in the area would require a build up in Venezuela, on Cuba or wherever else and the construction of serious military and navy bases and construction of the corresponding infrastructure – piers, barracks, resort facilities, warehouses for ammunition and fuel, POL as well as the ability to defend these facilities from the land, sea and air with supporting systems of reconnaissance, communications, radio-electronic warfare and other systems. A pair of IL-78 tankers would have to be maintained there on a permanent basis. In one word, a lot of money would have to be spent on this.
Whether Moscow is prepared for this kind of investment is an open question. An equally good question is for how long the friendship with the Chavez regime will last. There are optimistic historical precedents in Cuba and Chile for partnership with Russia in Latin America.