Russia is increasing its naval activity in two far-flung parts of the world, as Moscow seeks to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia and to project power in the Western Hemisphere. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from the Russian capital.
In a statement broadcast on national television, Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the country's warships will shift from a periodic to a continuous presence in the Gulf Aden off the coast of Somalia to protect commercial shipping in the area from piracy.
Dygalo says individual Russian navy vessels and possibly convoys will have the job of protecting Russian shipping in the area. The United States and other western countries with ships in the area have been searching for ways to halt the growing problem of piracy.
The Interfax News agency says a Russian patrol ship in the region has in recent days escorted vessels traveling under the flags as Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, and Cyprus. Some of those ships have Russian crews.
Pirates have attacked more than 90 ships off the 3,900-kilometer coast of Somalia this year, and hijacked at least 36. They demand and often receive multi-million dollar ransoms. Since September, pirates have been holding a Ukrainian ship loaded with weapons, including tanks and artillery bound for Kenya or Sudan. On November 15, pirates hijacked a Saudi super tanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.
Meanwhile, Russian Navy spokesman Dygalo also issued a statement saying ships from the Northern fleet will arrive Tuesday in Venezuela and will conduct joint maneuvers with that country on December 1. The statement says the exercise would involve operational planning, helping distressed vessels, and supplying ships underway.
In Moscow, independent Russian military analyst Alexander Konovalov told VOA that Russia's increased naval presence in the Gulf of Aden is a practical response to intolerable piracy. But he characterized the naval maneuvers with Venezuela as an empty political gesture aimed at the United States in response to NATO ships that delivered humanitarian supplies to Georgia during that country's conflict with Russia in August.
Konovalov says, "you Americans send a ship to the Georgian port of Batumi with powdered milk and hygiene supplies, we send you the Peter the Great, a heavy nuclear-powered cruiser, to the Caribbean Sea."
Joining the cruiser are the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, and some logistics ships.
The Russian maneuvers with Venezuela come at a time when the United States is in the midst of a presidential transition. Alexander Konovalov notes this represents a unique opportunity for Russia to seek improved relations with Washington.