CARACAS, Venezuela -- Russia's plan to deploy ships and warplanes to the Caribbean for joint military exercises with Venezuela is allowing President Hugo Chavez to capitalize on tensions between Moscow and the U.S. and showcase a growing military alliance.
Russia announced Monday that it will send a naval squadron and long-range patrol planes for the exercises later this year -- a move that appeared retaliatory after the U.S. sent warships to deliver aid to Georgia following its conflict with Russia.
The deployment is expected to be the largest Russian naval maneuvers in the Caribbean -- and perhaps the Western Hemisphere -- since the Cold War.
Chavez considers the U.S. a defense threat and his welcoming of the Russian navy contrasted with his criticism of the recent reactivation of the U.S. Navy's Fourth Fleet for the Caribbean and Latin America. He ridiculed possible U.S. concerns about the Russian deployment, saying: "Go ahead and squeal, Yankees."
"This is vintage Chavez. He rarely misses an opportunity to needle and provoke Washington," said Michael Shifter, an analyst at the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue. "He is taking advantage of the growing chill in U.S.-Russia relations, especially over the situation in Georgia, to poke his finger in [President] Bush's eye. There is nothing he relishes more."
Chavez says the U.S. Fourth Fleet -- which was dissolved after World War II -- poses a threat to the region. U.S. officials say the fleet will help maintain security while performing humanitarian missions and counter-drug operations.