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Russian Reports: Two Russian Bombers Land in Venezuela

Russian news agencies are quoting Defense Ministry officials as saying that two Russian strategic bombers have landed in Venezuela as part of military maneuvers.

The media reports say the Tu-160 bombers arrived Wednesday and that NATO fighters followed the Russian planes during the long flight to Venezuela.

The reports also say the bombers will remain for several days, carrying out training flights over neutral waters before returning to Russia.

Earlier this week, Russian officials said they would send a naval task force to the Caribbean later this year for possible joint exercises with Venezuela.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said the nuclear-powered battle cruiser, Peter the Great, will lead the naval mission, which will include the destroyer, Admiral Chabanenko, and other vessels including a fuel tanker. The spokesman said anti-submarine aircraft also will be sent to Venezuela, possibly in November.

The spokesman said the visit was planned long before the outbreak of the Georgian conflict and is not directed against any third country.

Russian authorities have accused the United States of rearming Georgia while using military vessels to deliver humanitarian aid to the Caucasus country. U.S. officials have denied the charge.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack has said the United States will be watching developments to see if the exercises do take place.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a harsh critic of the U.S. government and has forged closer ties with Moscow, including arms purchases and other economic deals. He also has said ties between Russia and Venezuela would help protect Venezuela's sovereignty. Mr. Chavez met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in July.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.