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Russia, Venezuela Launch Naval Exercises


Russia and Venezuela have begun a series of joint naval operations in the southern Caribbean Sea aimed at evaluating their nations' skills in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

Military officials for both countries said the exercises, dubbed "VenRus 2008," will include navigation, rescue and other operations.

A fleet of about 1,600 Russian naval officers is participating in the exercise aboard several Russian warships, which left the port of La Guaira, near Caracas, Monday for the exercises. The vessels arrived in Venezuela late last month in Russia's first deployment in the Caribbean since the Cold War.

The U.S. State Department has said the United States will keep a close eye on the military exercises, but it has dismissed the notion that they represent a challenge to U.S. influence in the region.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expressed the same idea last month, saying the exercises are not a provocation.

Mr. Chavez is an outspoken critic of the U.S. government and has been seeking closer relations with Moscow.

The deepening ties between Moscow and Caracas - including recent visits by Mr. Chavez to the Russian capital - follow a rift between Moscow and Washington over Russia's conflict with its neighbor Georgia in August.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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