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US Will Watch Russian-Venezuelan Naval Maneuvers Closely

The U.S. State Department said it will keep a close eye on upcoming Russian-Venezuelan naval maneuvers but dismissed the idea that they represent a challenge to U.S. influence in the region.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Monday there is no question about who the Latin American region looks to in terms of political, economic diplomatic and military power. But McCormack said he did not think the planned naval exercises were meant to be provocative.

Russian ships, including the nuclear-powered cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), are due to arrive in Venezuela Tuesday for the joint military exercises. It will be the first time since the end of the Cold War that the Russian Navy has sailed into the region.

Their arrival will coincide with a two-day visit to Venezuela by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Mr. Medvedev is scheduled to arrive in Caracas Wednesday as part of a Latin American tour that includes Brazil and Cuba. While in the Venezuelan capital, he will meet with President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of the U.S. government who has been seeking closer relations with Moscow.

The Kremlin leader met this past week with U.S. President George Bush at a summit of Pacific Rim countries in Lima, Peru.

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